A recent scientific expedition to the Canadian Arctic found that the permafrost is thawing seven decades earlier than had been predicted, signalling that the global warming crisis could be a lot worse that first thought.

"Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it's happening before our very eyes," said Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace.  "This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately."

The report, published in Geophysical Research Letters, detailed how the team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks traveled far out to remote reaches where humans rarely go, including to an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 kilometers from the nearest human settlement.  All along the way, they found that what were once huge ice blocks under the surface of the ground had melted, after remaining frozen for thousands of millennia.  

A decade earlier, this had all been pristine Arctic terrain.  Now, there is plant life springing up in low-lying depressions that are protected somewhat from the constant wind.

"What we saw was amazing," said geophysics Professor Vladimir E. Romanovsky.  "It's an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years."

The main concern as that the melting permafrost could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.

"It's a canary in the coalmine," said the study's co-author Louise Farquharson, "It's very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that's what we're going to look at next."