Changing Climate: Geothermal Evidence from Permafrost in the Alaskan Arctic

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Science  07 Nov 1986:
Vol. 234, Issue 4777, pp. 689-696
DOI: 10.1126/science.234.4777.689


Temperature profiles measured in permafrost in northernmost Alaska usually have anomalous curvature in the upper 100 meters or so. When analyzed by heat-conduction theory, the profiles indicate a variable but widespread secular warming of the permafrost surface, generally in the range of 2 to 4 Celsius degrees during the last few decades to a century. Although details of the climatic change cannot be resolved with existing data, there is little doubt of its general magnitude and timing; alternative explanations are limited by the fact that heat transfer in cold permafrost is exclusively by conduction. Since models of greenhouse warming predict climatic change will be greatest in the Arctic and might already be in progress, it is prudent to attempt to understand the rapidly changing thermal regime in this region.

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