Arctic Permafrost Atlas offers insights into the North’s changing landscape

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

A new atlas exploring everything about permafrost has been published this month, something those behind the project hope will give readers a fresh understanding on the changes occuring in the Arctic.

“It’s really hard to picture what permafrost is when you only see it online,” Hugues Lantuit, a permafrost expert and the atlas project coordinator, said in a phone interview.

“While we can immediately see the impacts of climate change on sea ice or glaciers, permafrost presents a much greater challenge, despite its extensive effects on various components of the Earth’s system.”

The effects encompass carbon storage, coastal erosion, and their implications for people living on permafrost in the circumpolar North.

“It’s quite challenging to convey all of this in a single place or setting where all these components can be addressed holistically,” Lantuit said. “That’s precisely what we aimed to accomplish with this project.”

“We are not trying to put forward policy recommendations because they quickly become outdated,” said project leader Hugues Lantuit. “We are opening up questions and what we really want is to create a platform to stimulate discussion.” (Courtesy Hugues Lantuit)

Importance of Arctic voices

The Arctic Permafrost Atlas includes 176 pages featuring maps, illustrations, and photographs, as well as unexpected elements such as artwork and testimonials from individuals residing and working on Arctic permafrost.

Lantuit, who also heads the Permafrost Coasts working group at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Potsdam, Germany, also has extensive field experience in Canada’s western Arctic and said bringing local voices and artwork into the atlas is one of the important things that sets it apart.

“We know very well that [as scientists] we are very gifted at making things complicated,” he said. “And we wanted to show that permafrost can be approached in very different ways.”

Artwork by Olga Borjo-Prive (Oluko) in the Arctic Permafrost Atlas. “What’s fascinating is that you can barely see permafrost, so having these artists depicting it with these illustrations, that sometimes look like dreams to some extent, is something that we wanted to bring to the book,” Hugues Lantuit said. (Arctic Permafrost Atlas)

The atlas came out of the Horizon 2020 Nunataryuk project, 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.

Focus on information exchange across polar communities

In all, Nunataryuk involved more than 150 scientists from 14 countries doing everything from on-site permafrost research with local communities, to computer simulations to socio-economic analyses.

The atlas showcases the results of the project.

The cover of the Arctic Permafrost Atlas. (Arctic Permafrost Atlas)

“One of the strengths of our project is that we don’t focus on one country,” Lantuit said. “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.

“Looking at this exchange of information across the North is very important and is what this atlas seeks to promote.”

The atlas is currently available as a free PDF download.

Plans are also in the works to make printed versions available.

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Québec funds research to adapt Nunavik public housing to thawing permafrost, CBC News

Norway: Thawing permafrost melts ground under homes and around Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Melting permafrost may release industrial pollutants at Arctic sites: study, Eye on the Arctic

United States30–50% of critical northern infrastructure could be at high risk by 2050 due to warming, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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