Questions & Answers: Permafrost

The following are questions asked of ACMP scientists and the answers they provided. Click on the question at the top to jump to the answer below.

How deep are the boreholes to study permafrost and how long does it take to dig the holes?

We try to dig about 6 meters (20 feet). That hole is for the permafrost. We also dig a hole about 2 meters (6 feet) for the frost tube, to study frost depth. The time to dig the holes depends on the material we are digging in. Silt does not take long to dig into, maybe 30 minutes, but gravel or rocks can take a long time or even be impossible with our equipment. - Kenji Yoshikawa

How are the instruments powered?

The data logger has a small battery, similar to a camera battery. The battery has no problem with the temperature and lasts for one year. The highest mountain in the world has the same model data logger; it works very well. - Kenji Yoshikawa

What would happen if all the permafrost thawed?

The vegetation change would be the biggest difference. About 10,000 years ago we had a similar situation, most of the permafrost was gone. - Kenji Yoshikawa

Do you put in the boreholes in sites that have no permafrost?

Yes. That's how we discover that there is no permafrost in that site. In those cases, we put a regular borehole to collect temperature data, but not a frost tube. - Ned Rozell

Do you have to go back to a site to get that data, or is it transmitted?

There are data loggers at each site. A few sites have satellite transmitters that transmit the data back to the Geophysical Institute, but the majority of sites just have the data loggers. In those cases, you have to go back to those sites to download the data. - Ned Rozell

In cases where scientists introduce a species, do they monitor the species? For how long?

They monitor it until the birds are doing well enough to be on their own. For example, there was a bird they thought was extinct, the Canadian goose. A scientist found a bunch of them on an Aleutian island, so they reintroduced the goose to some of the other islands. After about 20 years, the geese were coming back in such great numbers that they stopped counting them every year. - Ned Rozell

Is permafrost ice?

It's partly ice. Permafrost is ground that has water in it; dirt and rocks that have water in between them. When the water freezes you have permafrost. The reason that buildings and roads have problems when the permafrost thaws is that the dirt and rocks settle when the ice melts, and the ground becomes uneven. - John Walsh

How long does it take the permafrost to thaw?

That's something that scientists at the Geophysical Institute are studying. If you build a house or road on permafrost, it can thaw within a few years. However, if there is nothing man made to influence it, permafrost might take up to 100 years to thaw. Up in Barrow, and other places where the permafrost is really thick, it might take up to 1000 years to thaw. It depends on the climate and the depth of permafrost. - John Walsh

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