Bowden of the University of Vermont believes there is "strong evidence" that trapped carbon and methane could be set free during thermokarst events and contribute to warming. He is seeking funding to investigate how thermokarsts will influence Arctic ecosystems overall. For instance, a thermokarst that causes a spike in sediments in waterways may suffocate plants, clog fish gills, and ultimately set off a cascade of effects all the way up the food web.
"It's not a horror story—it's not like this is not a natural process," Bowden cautions. "But I think there's strong evidence that [human] influences that are some distance away from Arctic are having these secondary effects... which are going to be potentially very important in structuring the way the Arctic landscape looks and behaves in the future."