(CNN)In the Arctic, a changing climate isn't something that might happen in the near future. In the uppermost stretches of the Northern Hemisphere, it's already happening now.
Arctic permafrost is melting so fast it's damaging the equipment scientists use to measure it
Temperatures are warming; sea ice is retreating.
And a new study says permafrost is melting so fast in the Arctic that it's not only ripping up the landscape, but it's also wrecking scientific equipment and making climate change even worse for all of us.
As permafrost -- ground that is frozen year-round -- melts, it releases carbon and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Current modeling for this is based on an expectation that permafost thaws slowly, thus carbon would be released into the atmosphere at a certain rate. But this new study published last week in the journal Nature says since some Arctic permafrost is melting much more quickly, higher amounts of greenhouse gases and carbon could be released as well. That would warm the planet up more quickly.
Scientists at this point just don't know what all the consequences of such permafrost-induced carbon release could be, though in the study researchers estimate it could produce twice as much gas than what current models are predicting.
Rapid permafrost melt isn't just releasing more greenhouse gases into air: It's changing the landscape, too, since permafrost affects about a quarter of the land in the Northern Hemisphere.
The group of scientists who conducted the study talked of research sites in Alaska, now covered with lakes, that a year ago were a forest. And they also saw rivers filled with sediment that once flowed clear. All of these abrupt changes to the land made it more difficult for them to conduct research, since the scientific equipment they depend on was sometimes literally swallowed up by the land.
"We now know that ice-rich permafrost covers about 20% of the permafrost region, and in these ecosystems, the permafrost is literally the glue that holds the land together. When it thaws, the land liquefies," Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario and the study's lead researcher, told CNN. "In flat areas, before the permafrost thaws, ecosystems are dry enough to be forested. When the permafrost thaws, all the trees die, topple over, and the whole system flips to a lake. I have been monitoring permafrost temperature in interior Alaska for the past 10 years (outside Fairbanks), and we returned to our field sites only to find all our gauges and equipment totally under water. You can imagine that the electronics did not survive!"
Rick Thoman, a climatologist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said he's seen similar changes in his state.
"Anything built on permafrost (like roads) will be affected," Thoman told CNN. "You can see it on the natural landscape as well."
Because of the possible changed working conditions brought on by the permafrost melt, scientists working in the Arctic will need to develop new strategies and get more creative as they conduct research