Permafrost block
Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska’s Arctic Coast. Credit: Benjamin Jones, USGS.

Beneath many parts of Alaska is permafrost, frozen ground that’s stable enough to support buildings. But now the ground is melting and shifting beneath people’s homes.

Some shifting is expected: on top of the permafrost is a layer of soil that freezes and thaws each year. So for a stable foundation, many homes are built on piling, metal rods drilled into the permafrost.

But as the climate warms and the permafrost starts to melt, it can undermine building foundations and cause plumbing problems, uneven floors, and windows that won’t shut properly.

So now engineers must consider a warming climate during construction.

Crandall: “They’re tending to place piling a little bit deeper now.”

Kent Crandall is a construction project manager with Arcadis. He’s working on a hospital in Bethel, Alaska.

Crandall: “Now in the case of the hospital project, which is a critical facility, we are making the investment to also install thermal probes which are actually machines that keep the ground refrigerated year-round.”

He says people must adapt to the changing conditions if they want to keep building and living in the region.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

Justyna Bicz is a Climate Connections contributor based in Chicago.

Topics: Snow & Ice