Icy Debris Blobs Are Creeping Closer to Alaska’s Only Road to the Arctic

Alaska’s Dalton Highway, near Atigan Pass. Image: Flickr/Peter Waterman
Twenty three “frozen debris lobes” are nearing Alaska’s Dalton Highway, and climate change could be to blame.

By Sarah Emerson | MOTHERBOARD

Alaska’s main artery to the Arctic, the 414-mile-long Dalton Highway, is being threatened by rapidly thawing „landslides,“ according to a report from Arctic Now.

Twenty three permafrost features, called “frozen debris lobes,” are steadily creeping toward the remote highway. Panned out, these geohazards resemble mudslides. One of them, which is set to reach Dalton Highway by 2022—now 86 feet away from the road—has been approaching 1.5 centimeters each day, according to a team of researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

But, up close, these moving masses are a mix of boulders, silt, and organic matter, with below-freezing liquid cores. They sit atop permafrost, a frozen layer of carbon-sequestering soil, which allows them to slide along the ground, slowly but surely. Some have exceeded 328 feet in width, 65 feet in height, and 3280 feet in length, found a 2012 study published in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

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