Researchers warn that rapid melting of ice has become widespread throughout the Arctic. The study published in the journal Nature Geoscience cites this will alter the Arctic plain in Alaska, Canada and Russia, affecting the plants and wildlife in these areas.

A team of 19 scientists observed the changes in the Arctic landscape through aerial and satellite photos taken from 1948 to 1990. They compared these photos from aerial and satellite images taken from 2005 and 2012.

They found out that deep troughs have already formed because the top surface of the ice wedges has already melted. The researchers explain that the ice wedges are located deep into the permafrost or in the permanently frozen soil and are formed over centuries.

Nuclear icebreaker Yamal on her way to the North Pole, 2001. Photo from Wikimedia/Wofratz

Nuclear icebreaker Yamal on her way to the North Pole, 2001. Photo from Wikimedia/Wofratz

These shape the 15-to-30-metre polygons that form the unique Arctic landscape. Ice wedge degradation has been observed before but the new findings suggest that the melting has already affected more regions than previously thought.

“The analysis clearly shows dramatic changes to this landscape, especially during relatively short periods in unusually warm summers in recent years,” states Marius Necsoiu, a principal scientist in Southwest Research Institute’s (SwRI) Geosciences and Engineering Division.

Moreover, the research team also noticed that the lichen, moss and other native plants have also deteriorated. If this problem does not stop, the landscape would alter and it could even sink, which could inflict negative effects on plants and animals living in the Arctic region.

The analysis also suggests that the ice wedge degradation has occurred in less than 10 years. According to Necsoiu, these satellite images also show that the landscape changes especially during summer.

Even a period of warm summer could even cause the wedges to melt more than 10 centimetres that lead to water runoff and pooling. The researchers add that the ice still melted even in the permafrost that is as cold as -13.8 degrees Celsius.