Many may have read Professor Eb Rice’s Alaska Press book, “Building in the North”. (http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/civilengineering/arctic/upload/Building_in_the_North.pdf)It is at times comical, yet technical while being something the layperson can read with many anecdotes about Cold Climate building.  And permafrost is a major focus of the book with photos of places you may have been familiar driving by here in Fairbanks.  He points out well the catastrophic failure that has occurred when people build without special precautions- no matter how energy efficient the dwelling is.

There is another problem that some believe is looming, though, with melting permafrost- regardless if there is a building or not on it.  A recent study published in the Nature Climate Change journal estimates a fiscal cost of $43 trillion lost in the global economy due to their estimation of carbon emissions from the frosty soils thawing.  I looking at permafrost worldwide, the article predicts that as much if not twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere is located in these soils.

Whether this will bear out to be true or not, that amount of money is over half of the economic activity worldwide in 2014 (at ~$78 trillion).  Whereas Dr. Rice focused on the damage and remediation to buildings that failed due to being on these soils, the $43 trillion does not include any building or asset losses due to rigid, frigid soils becoming a slurried mess.  Linking scientific and economic models is not unusual, but of course regardless of the analysis, such studies then rely on the political system to create policy to avoid costs- and that is not always as easy to crunch, as are the numbers.

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