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 Greenhouse Gas (GHG).
- Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost UNEP, 2012
- IPCC, 2013: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1535 pp.
- Observed permafrost temperatures from selected boreholes in European mountains
- Comparison of active layer thickness from boreholes in the Alps, Norway and Svalbard
- Projected change in Northern Hemisphere near-surface permafrost area
- Temperature [°C]
- Depth [m]
- Area [square km]
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
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 CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
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.
Projections for Northern Hemisphere permafrost have been derived from the CMIP5 model ensemble.
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.
- Diagnosing present and future permafrost from climate models A. G. Slater and D. M. Lawrence (2013): Diagnosing present and future permafrost from climate models. Journal of Climate 26:5608-5623
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
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
Frequency of updates
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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