Arctic Permafrost Atlas: Importance of Arctic Voices


A map from the Arctic Permafrost Atlas. Sources: Overduin et al.(2019); Obu et al. (2019). By Levi Westerveld/Grid-Arendal (2023)

It gathers the knowledge from the voices of scientists, Indigenous Peoples, northern residents, and local practitioners to provide a holistic and inclusive view of today’s challenges in the “country of permafrost”.

The atlas contains 176 pages that use maps, words, illustrations, and stories to describe permafrost and the impacts of permafrost thaw on human communities in the Arctic.

More than 150 scientists from 14 countries worked on the development of this atlas doing everything from on-site permafrost research with local communities, to computer simulations to socio-economic analyses.

To give the atlas a human dimension, 9 portrait interviews of people either living or working on permafrost have been included. Instead of photographs of the interviewees, the portraits are accompanied with unique art pieces by Russian indigenous artist Oluko Borjon-Privé.

The atlas was presented at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland in conjunction with an Exhibition that was set up in collaboration with the International Arctic Science Committee.

One of the strengths of our project is that we don’t focus on one country. You get the sense of the information exchange across the polar communities that gets us out of that unidimensional axis between the South and the North, a permafrost expert and the atlas project coordinator said.

The atlas came out of the Horizon 2020 Nunataryuk research and innovation programme, a European-funded initiative led by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. The project brought together social scientists, physical scientists, economists, Arctic residents, and engineers, among others, to examine permafrost changes in the North.

Nunataryuk means between land and sea in Inuvialuktun, an Inuit language spoken in northern Canada.

Permafrost is ground which remains at temperatures below 0°C for at least two consecutive years. Russia has the world’s largest share: two-thirds of the country’s territory sits on permafrost. Therefore, it is important to maintain international cooperation with Russia to study permafrost and the impacts of permafrost thaw.