By: Riley St.Ledger
Summary. The Trans-Alaskan pipeline is one of the world's largest oil pipelines, spanning about 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay in North Alaska to Valdez in the South. The pipeline carries almost 2 million barrels of oil across Alaska every day. But recent thawing of permafrost has threatened some supports holding the pipeline, putting the structural integrity in complete danger. A slope with an 810 foot long section of pipeline has already started to slip because of melting permafrost, causing the braces of the section to bend. Possible rupturing of the pipeline could result in a huge oil spill in a remote landscape, making it extremely difficult to clean up. Plus, any spill could release thousands of gallons of oil, which could only accelerate the thawing permafrost even more. Implications of the thawing permafrost can give people an idea about the effect climate change is having on pipeline safety, and on the landscape in Alaska. Permafrost is ground that has been frozen for at least two years, and it makes up nearly 85% of Alaska. In recent decades, the permafrost temperatures have warmed about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, causing increased thawing. To hopefully combat this melting, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources is installing 100 thermosyphons, tubes that will suck heat out of the permafrost, to try and prevent further damage to the pipeline's structure, and keep frozen slope from slipping any further. But, there are still concerns with these cooling tubes. They haven't been used once a slope has already begun to slide, and the permafrost is already in the process of thawing. Plus, the thermosyphons will help keep the permafrost from melting around the oil pipeline, which is only adding to the extraction of more fossil fuels that are causing the melting in the first place. Besides the pipeline, roads and bridges and other infrastructure will also deteriorate faster than expected because of the thawing permafrost. This is a large problem that will continue to affect many aspects of life in Alaska.
Why we should care? This is an important topic because of the problems climate change is causing in Alaska, as well as in the Arctic. These places are heating twice as fast was the rest of the globe because of global warming, and are facing more problems quicker.
This article caught my attention because of how dangerous this situation could be. The Trans Alaskan pipeline stretches across the entirety of Alaska and has carried 20 billion gallons of oil since it was first established. The constant melting of permafrost in the future could cause multiple leaks, and increase the amount of oil spills occurring. The spills are already difficult to clean up, and of course are dangerous to the environment. There are solutions to the melting, so hopefully once those are in place there will be a decrease in thawing, and a positive change on the environment.
Science in Action.
Dr. Miriam Jones is a Research Geologist for Florence Bascom Geoscience Center.
Dr. Jones uses proxies to interpret climate and landscape change over timescales. Her current focuses are responses to abrupt permafrost thaw, sea level rise, sea ice retreat, and land use change. She has done research about the Alaskan permafrost and the abrupt thawing, which will release greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change even more. The climate change that is causing this melting is also increasing global climate change, which amplifies the dangers that permafrost melting really causes. This is relevant information to know about the permafrost melting, because of the added dangers that weren't covered in the main articles on this topic.