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Climate-driven expansion of northern agriculture must consider permafrost

Northern expansion is often seen as a solution to climate-driven agricultural challenges in lower latitudes, yet little is known about cultivation–permafrost interactions. We outline four science-based adaptations, informed by farmer knowledge, that reduce risk and inform decisions to sustainably manage and develop permafrost-agroecosystems.

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Fig. 1: Sweetcorn grown as part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ vegetable trials in 202119.
Fig. 2: Interactions between permafrost thaw and land cultivation are becoming increasingly evident because of ongoing climate and land-use changes in northern regions.
Fig. 3: Permafrost degradation scenarios in agricultural fields based on ground-ice content and the common practice of surface grading to manage subsidence.

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Acknowledgements

Our research takes place on the unceded homelands of the Lower Tanana Dene, the Nunamiut and the Central Yupik. We acknowledge that these peoples have been in relationship with the land on which we work and reside since time immemorial, and we are grateful for that stewardship and care. Funding for this research is from the US National Science Foundation’s Navigating the New Arctic initiative under RISE award 2126965.

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M.K.W.J. led the preparation of the manuscript and wrote the first draft. All authors contributed to the conceptualization, editing and reviewing of the manuscript. G.M.G. provided the photo for Fig. 1, B.M.J. produced Fig. 2 and M.Z.K. created Fig. 3.

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Correspondence to Melissa K. Ward Jones.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Ward Jones, M.K., Schwoerer, T., Gannon, G.M. et al. Climate-driven expansion of northern agriculture must consider permafrost. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 699–703 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01436-z

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