Landscape with permafrost a soil that could kill you

Permafrost, a soil that could kill

By: Gabriel Rodríguez Rojas

Permafrost soil

The soil around the world has many different categories. They mostly vary depending on the climate region on which they are. For example, the tropical regions have everlasting producing ground because of their lack of wintertime. The high temperatures allow for the soil to be continuously recycling its materials. But areas that encounter seasonal differences in temperatures have other soils because of the harsh cold. Among the different soils is the permafrost, ground that remains completely frozen. They are most common on high mountains and earth’s higher latitudes near the north and south poles. These soil types were not permanently frozen since the beginning. They were once a soil layer with bioactivity, decomposition, and microbial activity. Due to the natural earth’s temperature changes, tectonic plate movements, and volcanic activities, these soils came to be frozen and denominated permafrost (permanently frozen). Although it is considered frozen, they are not frozen all the way. Depending on the region, these soil types have an active layer from 4-6 inches or several meters thick. Nonetheless, below the active layer, the permafrost is entirely frozen and composed of soil, rock, and sand held together by ice.


The life (or death) in the frozen layer

As mentioned earlier, the frozen layer contains soil, a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gasses, liquids, and organisms that have been decomposed throughout time. These layers are as old as 650,000 years, which means that there may be organisms, plants, and animal carcasses in the permafrost layers that have been outside the human era for a while now. These organisms can be known by the human population or so old that their effects on the human population are not yet known. Some scientists theorize that emerging the permafrost layer can trigger a biological response where viruses and bacteria would be released into the human population. Since they have been underground for such a long time, their presence and contact with humans could be a potential health risk.

Climate change + permafrost + unknown bacteria & viruses

Worms in the soil.
Worms in the soil.

When climate change is added to the emerging permafrost concern, it becomes a real risk to the human population. Recent observations have shown that temperatures are getting warmer in the summer and colder in the winters. This would mean that a potential defrosting of the permafrost layers could occur due to the higher summer temperatures. Villages built on permafrost are being destroyed because the ice that once held the soil together melts, and the ground crumbles and breaks. The organic matter housed inside the permafrost also activates and starts decomposing and releasing greenhouse gasses which accelerate climate change altogether. Adding the potential threat of unknown viruses and bacteria that the permafrost layer has… well, let’s say that we won’t know what will happen, but they can make the human population very sick and become a very serious health risk.

What can we do about viruses and bacteria in permafrost?

Melting Permafrost
Melting Permafrost

As silly as it may seem, our daily choices affect global health and climate change. The advocacy for making conscious decisions is not for monetary purposes. Instead, it is creating a call for a sustainable way of living that reduces the impact on the climate that harbors our earth.

  1. Reduction of carbon footprint – so simple, yet it is not perceived to have a considerable impact. This can be as simple as turning off the light in a room where you are not present, yet as big as buying an electric car. But, when put into perspective, if 1 million people turn off that one light bulb for one house, that’s approximately 60 million watts that were not consumed in energy. Another way of reducing carbon footprint is switching to electric vehicles and investing in alternative mass public transportation like bike lanes, electric trains, and accessible sidewalks. Although this may seem unachievable due to existing infrastructure, we can undo what’s been done. Mayor cities worldwide have already gone through this significant change in infrastructures like Amsterdam, where cars were once the primary mode of transportation, and now it’s bikes and trains. In reality, when conscious decisions are made as a group and not as an individual, a real impact is made from the action. Now imagine the 1 million people would move completely into alternative modes of transportation and renewable energy…
  2. Investing in sustainable energy – probably the most expensive step to take in the climate revolution, but arguably the most effective. By investing in sustainable energy, there is an effect of preserving the environment. It uses the natural elements of the earth to produce energy. Every place in the world is different in terms of the most efficient energy to produce. Sunny areas would be the best places to invest in solar energy, while coastal would be good to invest in wind or hydroelectric energy types. But all have the same purpose of reducing pollution and our carbon footprint on the planet.
  3. Eating local foods –less travel distance for food is achieved by eating what is readily available by local, environmentally compliant, and conscious farming. If living in the U.S.A and purchasing food from European countries, the contribution is made to the movement of a product. For example, a wine from the farm, into the van for transporting to the city, the forklift into the shipping container, the machinery to move the shipping container into the ship, transporting the cargo by water, disembark at the port, move into trucks for supermarkets, and finally moving the product into your home… It could essentially go from the farm into the supermarket and then into your home. Purchasing from the global economy creates an unnecessary carbon footprint from where the product originates up to delivered into the house. Whereas buying local product would take out the intermediate steps that use machinery and reduce the overall transportation costs and consumption.
  4. Supporting climate-friendly policies & politics – I think supporting politicians with an environmentally friendly platform would benefit the environment. These policies are not too complex to understand because they can be as simple as promoting the few things mentioned above. They can be as simple as helping local farmers and local supermarkets for their distribution to have cheaper distribution costs and lower their total product price. It is also as simple as giving incentives to buy electric vehicles and planning more charging stations. Or better yet, investing in alternative mass public transportation. By reading the candidate’s platform and informing yourself of each proposal, and not just voting for what they represent as a political party, you can create this conscious decision-making process…

To summarize, permafrost is a frozen layer that contains gasses, organic matter, and organisms. If exposed from their current frozen state, these components can have an adverse effect on the current climate and humans. Climate change has a warming impact on the permafrost, which exposes these components to our current living situation. Unknown or old frozen diseases are a potential health risk to our population that should be more of a concern to the world. But, by making conscious decisions about what we eat, invest, do in our daily lives, and vote for, we can reduce the rate at which temperatures are changing and keep the frozen layer in control.

Gabriel Rodriguez Rojas supports the company with an interdisciplinary role. Some of his key roles include the permaculture design, geographical analysis and visualization, drone aerial documentation, assisting in environmental studies, writing technical documents and articles, and translation support. He has a Master’s degree in GIS & Remote Sensing and has been working in the environmental Sector since 2014.

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