Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Permafrost is permanently frozen ground and consists of rock or soil that has remained at or below 0 °C continuously for more than 2 years. It is a widespread phenomenon in the Arctic as well as in the alpine high mountain environments. Climate change leads to changes in spatial extent, thickness and temperature of permafrost. The changes are not uniform across all permafrost areas, but depend on the geographical location and specific characteristics of the permafrost.
Permafrost influences the evolution of landscapes and ecosystems and affects human infrastructure and safety. Permafrost warming or thaw increases risks of natural hazards, such as rock falls, debris flows and ground subsidence. Arctic permafrost thaw can also accelerate climate change through the increased release of CO2 and CH4 which is a powerful Green House Gas (GHG).
- PERMOS, 2007. Permafrost in Switzerland 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 Glaciological Report (Permafrost) 4(5) of the Glaciological Commission of the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SAS) and Department of Geography, University of Zurich.
- Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost UNEP, 2012
- Observed permafrost temperatures from selected boreholes in European mountains
- Comparison of active layer thickness from boreholes in the Alps, Norway and Svalbard
- Temperature [°C]
- Depth [m]
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The White Paper stresses the need to improve the knowledge base and to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. The European Commission will be publishing an EU Adaptation Strategy in 2013. A number of Member States have already taken action, and several have prepared national adaptation plans.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG Climate Action: What is the EU doing about climate change?
Activities of the EU regarding climate change (both mitigation and adaptation)
White paper - Adapting to climate change: towards a European framework for action
EU framework for adaptation to climate change, leading to a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy by 2013
Key policy question
What is the trend in the temperature and the thawing depth of permafrost soils across Europe?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Permafrost temperatures from 10 m and 20 m depth and their evolution for selected boreholes in European mountains and active-layer depths (top layer of the soil that thaws during the summer) have been observed.
Methodology for gap filling
- Noetzli, J. and Vonder Muehll, D. (eds.): PERMOS 2010 Permafrost in Switzerland 2006/2007 and 2007/2008. , Glaciological Report (Permafrost) No. 8/9 of the Cryospheric Commission of the Swiss Academy of Sciences, 68 pp.
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Data on the cryosphere vary significantly with regard to availability and quality. Data on permafrost are generally restricted to the last 15-25 years.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A – What is happening to the environment and to humans?)