In DepthClimate Change

A cold, creeping menace

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Science  11 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6253, pp. 1152
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6253.1152

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Barack Obama last week became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the nation's Arctic territory, using a sojourn in this vast state to highlight the risks posed by climate change. They include, Obama said, the accelerated thawing of the frozen permafrost that sits beneath "the earth on which 100,000 Alaskans live, threatening homes [and] damaging transportation and energy infrastructure." It was a familiar warning to geological engineer Margaret Darrow of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Just before Obama arrived, she had spent a week in the field with a research team seeking to better understand one emerging hazard caused by melting permafrost: a massive, slow-motion landslide that threatens the Dalton Highway, the only land route into Alaska's lucrative North Slope oil fields and arguably the state's most important road. Researchers have so far identified 43 of these frozen debris lobes (FDLs) along the highway's route through the rugged Brooks Range—including a 20-meter-high slide that has bulldozed its way to within 40 meters of the northbound lane.

  • * in Fairbanks, Alaska