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SPECIAL REPORT In the last decades, 90% of the permafrost has disappeared in Kuujjuarapik. 35 SPRING 2015 N° 37 Permafrost mounds, also called palsas, are typical of the region. Florent Dominé, a researcher at the Takuvik laboratory, measures snow cover a few kilometers from Kuujjuarapik. © PHOTOS : L. CAILLOCE/CNRS PHOTOTHÈQUE understanding and modeling the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. “All we know today is that we are up against a potentially powerful positive feedback loop,” adds Dominé. “The higher the air temperature, the more the permafrost thaws, and the greater the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which in turn causes a new rise in air temperature, and so on.” Three sites have been selected to carry out this three-year study: Bylot Island, the northernmost location (latitude 73°N), within an area of continuous permafrost and a landscape of grassy tundra; Umiujaq (56°N), a coastal village in a region of discontinuous permafrost with alternating boreal forest and shrub tundra; and Kuujjuarapik, the southernmost site (55°N) and our destination, characterized by sporadic permafrost, largely covered by boreal forest with conifers. The following day, the blizzard has given way to bright sunshine. We fly over Hudson Bay, where the first ripples of sea ice are just becoming visible, and come in to land at Kuujjuarapik. No time to take a break in the village: we immediately board a helicopter, which will take us to the permafrost mounds located a few kilometers away. And the helicopter is no luxury: there are simply no roads in the Arctic. From the air we get our first view of palsas, peat mounds swollen by ice, and of thermokarst ponds, created by thawing permafrost, lined up in what looks like an array of pots of white paint. These mounds are the only remnants of the permafrost that once existed at Kuujjuarapik—of which 90% thawed over the past few decades. We land on one of them and unload the equipment. The thermometer reads -23°C. By the time we have prepared the instruments, the cameras and smartphones have stopped working. A “low battery temperature” message pops up on the screens, preventing any further action. Thick snow offers less protection Wrapped up warm in his goose-down jacket, a woolen hat pulled down over his ears, Dominé is in his element. “Snow is a very good insulator, almost as effective as …


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