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Alaska's Orange Rivers New Evidence of Permafrost Thaw

(Image credit: Ken Hill/National Park Service)

A recently published study has been garnering media attention about permafrost thaw in Alaska. Images of rusty orange streams and rivers across the Brooks Range are accompanied by shocking headlines about toxic metals and vinegar-like levels of acidity.

The study, published on May 20, observes the increasing orange tint in 75 streams in Alaska's arctic region over the course of 10 years, and suggests the most likely cause is increasing iron (and other metals) from thawing permafrost. While the full effects of this "rusty" steams and rivers are not fully known, the authors discuss possible concerns for drinking water, ecosystems, and the greater food web, including subsistence fishing and the fishing industries in northern Alaska.

In a horizon scan for an Alaska-based client last year, our research also showed permafrost thaw plays a role in increasing surface water ponding, sink holes and other ground collapses, and coastal erosion. Arctic communities have already reported foundation failures, traditional ice cellar thawing, broken pipes and windows, damage to roads, water and wastewater infrastructure, and oil and gas site infrastructure due to these environmental changes.


VFS follows climate change for clients in Alaska, Hawai'i, and the West Coast. If the social, environmental, and economic impacts of climate change are important to your business, reach out today to incorporate our knowledge into your planning.

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