After 15,000 years, it's waking up | Summary and Q&A

May 1, 2022
Physics Girl
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After 15,000 years, it's waking up


A visit to a unique permafrost tunnel in Alaska reveals the importance of permafrost research in understanding climate change impacts.

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Key Insights

  • 👨‍🔬 Permafrost is an essential area of research due to its significant impact on the global ecosystem and climate change.
  • 🫢 Thawing permafrost can release carbon and increase greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to further global warming.
  • 🥺 Thawing permafrost also leads to structural risks, such as collapsing buildings and sinking roads.
  • 🧑‍🏭 The unique permafrost tunnel in Alaska provides valuable research opportunities to study the effects of permafrost thaw on various environmental factors.
  • 🦣 The permafrost tunnel contains well-preserved mammoth tusks and provides insights into ancient ecosystems and climates.
  • 💦 The thawing of permafrost can have unexpected consequences, such as changes in water quality and impacts on travel conditions.
  • 🥺 Thawing permafrost in remote regions, such as Siberia, can lead to the re-emergence of dangerous pathogens like anthrax.


wow i didn't even think about things that might be living in this tunnel oh yeah we're gonna smell them but levi are you seeing this there's a tunnel 60 feet underground in a frozen alaskan hillside the u.s government dug this tunnel 60 years ago and to this day access is tightly controlled as a physics student at mit i never not once learned about... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: Why did the U.S. military dig the permafrost tunnel in Alaska?

The tunnel was excavated during the Cold War to test if permafrost could serve as insulation for army equipment, though it proved to be impractical.

Q: What risks are associated with thawing permafrost?

Thawing permafrost can lead to structural risks, such as collapsing houses and sinking roads. It also releases trapped carbon, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Q: What caused a mysterious anthrax outbreak in Siberia?

Rising temperatures in Siberia thawed permafrost, releasing an infected reindeer carcass that led to an anthrax outbreak. This highlights the potential dangers of thawing permafrost.

Q: How does permafrost degradation affect travel conditions?

Thawing permafrost can make travel unpredictable, as rivers may no longer freeze or thaw as expected. This can pose difficulties for vehicles and disrupt transportation systems.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The permafrost tunnel in Alaska was excavated by the U.S. Army during the Cold War as a research site on permafrost's insulating properties but is now used for various scientific studies.

  • Permafrost, permanently frozen ground, is found in about a fifth of the land in the northern hemisphere and plays a crucial role in the global ecosystem.

  • Thawing permafrost due to rising temperatures can lead to structural risks, release of trapped carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, impacts on water and food supply, and changes in travel conditions.

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