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  • In the summer of 2020, Arctic wildfires expanded across the tundra — driving permafrost thaw and triggering meltwater infiltration. In the permafrost, water from small thaw areas expand laterally, warming the surrounding permafrost ice. Gradually, disconnected thaw expands across a large area, abruptly transforming frozen ecosystems to wetlands. In pockets of permafrost and ice melt, vegetation grows at unprecedented rates. Once permafrost thaws, ongoing atmospheric warming makes a return to stable permafrost impossible.

    The rapidity of Arctic change has surprised researchers and the public alike. Until recently, climate change models failed to identify that the combination of fire, ice loss, and land clearing would force tipping point thresholds. In many cases, these small-scale, discrete events expand across the landscape to create enduring change.

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