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In August 2019, Iceland held a funeral for the Okjökull Glacier, the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change. The community commemorated the event with a plaque in recognition of this irreversible change and the grave impacts it represents. Globally, glacier melt rates have nearly doubled in the last five years, with an average loss of 832 mmw.e. (millimeters water equivalent) in 2015, increasing to 1,243 mmw.e. in 2020 (WGMS). This high rate of loss decreases glacial stores of freshwater and changes the structure of the surrounding ecosystem.

In the last 10 years, warming in the Arctic has outpaced projections so rapidly that scientists are now suggesting that the poles are warming four times faster than the rest of the globe. This has led to glacier melt and permafrost thaw levels that weren’t forecast to happen until 2050 or later. In Siberia and northern Canada, this abrupt thaw has created sunken landforms, known as thermokarst, where the oldest and deepest permafrost is exposed to the warm air for the first time in hundreds or even thousands of years.

As the global climate continues to warm, many questions remain about the periglacial environment. Among them: as water infiltration increases, will permafrost thaw more rapidly? And, if so, what long-frozen organisms might “wake up”?

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