'Growing Impact' podcast explores a thawing Arctic and its impacts

May 2, 2024

Editor’s note: A version of this article was first published on Penn State News. 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The latest episode of Growing Impact discusses how thawing Arctic permafrost is affecting rivers and communities in the region. With temperatures rising globally due to climate change, landscapes in the Arctic are evolving. A Penn State research team is investigating how thawing permafrost will change Arctic rivers and the consequences for erosion, sediment transport, and ultimately, communities. 

"This is a unique opportunity to understand how a warming climate affects landscapes," said Roberto Fernández, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. "Our research will inform how thawing permafrost will reshape rivers, potentially leading to resilient solutions to the challenges imposed by climate change in cold regions.” 

The sediments in a river's banks are moved and transported downstream by water flow. However, when those sediments are frozen, they react differently. The research team is exploring the variations in erosion processes between soils that are frozen and soils that were frozen and contrasting them with the erosion of soils that were never frozen. 

“The fact that we have all this frozen ground and it's been there for a long time, and now it is thawing, makes it important, interesting as well as concerning to study from multiple dimensions,” said Anastasia Piliouras, an assistant professor of geosciences. “We need to understand the potential impact on both the environment and the people who live there." 

The loss of ice in the soil raises concerns about a significant increase in sediment movement, potentially leading to riverbed instability, coastal erosion and disruptions to infrastructure. This includes avulsions, or rivers creating new channels, which could impact the landscape and communities. The team looks to take the data collected through laboratory experiments to identify how resilient or vulnerable a permafrost environment might be. 

To help communicate their findings, the research team is using art. Talley Fisher, a senior research artist in the SciArt group, is helping translate the science to promote community understanding. 

"Art allows us to go beyond data on a page," Fisher said. "By immersing people in the experience, we can create a deeper understanding of the challenges posed by a thawing Arctic." 

Growing Impact is a podcast by the Institute of Energy and the Environment (IEE). It features Penn State researchers who have been awarded IEE seed grants and discusses their foundational work as they further their projects. The podcast is available on multiple platforms, including YouTube, AppleAmazon and Spotify. 


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


College of Engineering Media Relations