Climate Change Is Accelerating Permafrost Thawing. And It’s Destroying Arctic Cities.
As climate change accelerates permafrost thawing, what can be done to maintain the resource-rich hubs Russia relies on?
Global warming has been tied to more frequent forest fires and flooding across Russia, but its impact on permafrost, which covers two-thirds of the country’s territory, is also beginning to be felt. At least seven giant craters have been discovered in Siberia—reportedly caused by thawing permafrost allowing methane to explode out of the ground—and a 12-year-old boy in Salekhard died from anthrax in August after thawing released bacteria.
Cracking and collapsing structures are a growing problem in cities like Norilsk—a nickel-producing centre of 177,000 people located 180 miles above the Arctic Circle—as climate change thaws the perennially frozen soil and increases precipitation. Valery Tereshkov, deputy head of the emergencies ministry in the Krasnoyarsk region, wrote in an article this year that almost 60 percent of all buildings in Norilsk have been deformed as a result of climate change shrinking the permafrost zone. Local engineers said more than 100 residential buildings, or one-tenth of the housing fund, have been vacated here due to damage from thawing permafrost.
In most cases, these are slow-motion wrecks that can be patched up or prevented by engineering solutions. But if a foundation shifts suddenly it can put lives at risk: cement slabs broke a doctor’s legs when the front steps and overhanging roof of a Norilsk blood bank collapsed in June 2015. Building and maintenance costs will have to be ramped up to keep cities in Russia’s resource-rich north running.
Engineers and geologists are careful to note that “technogenic factors” like sewer and building heat and chemical pollution are also warming the permafrost in places like Norilsk, the most polluted city in Russia. But climate change is deepening the thaw and speeding up the destruction, at the very same time that Russia is establishing new military bases and oil-drilling infrastructure across the Arctic. Greenpeace has warned that permafrost thawing has caused thousands of oil and gas pipeline breaks.
“There were problems there before, but climate change exacerbates them,” says Ali Kerimov, an engineer at Foundation Research and Production in Norilsk. “We need to study each case separately to understand what awaits us with climate change.”
Article ends with no solutions, instead, it breezes through a “you’re on your own” doomsday scenario.