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22.12.2020 | ז טבת התשפא

Research: When The Ground Melts Beneath Our Feet

Innovative tools for soil research allow tracking the defrosting of frozen ground at the Poles and contributing to climate change research


The area around the Poles have been going through a defrosting process over the last few decades. In addition to the melting of the icebergs, which we all know about, the defrosting process has caused the release of greenhouse gasses, which accelerate global warming. That is why there is such importance in scientific methods that allow for tracking, though hardly any existed until recently. Prof. Weinstein and doctoral candidate Dotan Rotem sought to explore the permafrost at the North Pole through innovative methods.

Permafrost (permanently frozen) is a continuous frozen static soil layer gathering around the coldest areas on earth, usually under the soil layers called ‘the active layer’. The active layer freezes and thaws according to the seasons, while the permafrost – as its name suggests – remains frozen. Climate change affects the ratio of permafrost in the world and the state of this soil not only expresses climate change, but also affects it.

Prof. Weinstein has been researching, among other things, the flow of groundwater to the ocean for many years by examining the presence of radioactive isotopes in the water. Now he harnesses this method to track the permafrost water. During his current study at the Pole, Prof. Weinstein discovered a unique radioactive mark, an isotope of the radium element, which allows for tracking the water melting on that soil layer. The radium isotope allows him to determine whether the ‘new water’ flowing to the lakes and bodies of water around the Pole due to global warming indeed originate from permafrost, or from the active soil layer as it ‘normally’ does.

To conduct the research, the frozen soil at the Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the North Pole was drilled using innovative methods. Said radium isotope was located in the ground samples. Later on, the isotope was also located in surrounding water streams, which points to the thawing of the permafrost. These concerning findings, which signify phenomena caused by global warming, are an important contribution to the science of Geology and global warming research.

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