Romanovsky, V., Burgess, M., Smith, S., Yoshikawa, K. and Brown, J. 2002. Permafrost temperature records: Indicators of climate change. EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 83: 589, 593-594.
What was done
The authors describe "an emerging system for comprehensive monitoring of permafrost temperatures," which they say is needed for "detection and tracking of climatic changes" and "verification of GCM outputs." In the course of this endeavor, they also present a 1924-2001 history of mean annual temperatures for Barrow, Alaska, USA, at soil depths of 0.08 m (the "active layer"), 0.5 m, and 1.0 m (about 60 cm below the permafrost table).
What was learned
The authors report that permafrost temperatures were "very similar during the 1940s and 1990s (except for unprecedented warm extremes of 1998 and 1999)." However, even including these "unprecedented warm extremes," we calculate from the authors' Figure 3 that the mean temperature about 60 cm into the permafrost (-9.15°C), over what climate alarmists call the warmest period of the past millennium, i.e., 1990 and onward, was no warmer than, or possibly even cooler than, the temperature of the 16-year period 1937-1952 (-9.06°C).
What it means
Once again (see our Editorial of 11 Dec 2002), in spite of all the hype about recent dramatic warming in the permafrost regions of Alaska, real-world data demonstrate - at least for Barrow - that it is no warmer there now than it was half a century ago, and the area's permafrost is in no more danger of being wiped out today that it was in the days of our grandparents. Furthermore, the authors note that degradation of permafrost does not proceed as rapidly as many climate alarmists would have one believe. As they describe it, "degradation of permafrost is a slow process," and "if recent trends continue, it will take several centuries to millennia [our italics] for permafrost in the present discontinuous zone to disappear completely in the areas where it is actively warming and thawing."
Reviewed 5 February 2003