Permafrost is melting, and scientists link this to climate change and the rise in average temperature on Earth. It’s a ticking ecological bomb, because the melting of the frozen tundra releases greenhouse gases, and this further accelerates global warming. It also affects the daily life of the inhabitants of these areas. For example, many buildings in localities in Russia’s arctic areas were built on the assumption that melting would never occur. Now houses are collapsing.
Permafrost, also known as permafrost, is a phenomenon of the permanent, seasonally independent soil keeping at a temperature below the freezing point of water. It covers, among others, most of Alaska and northern Canada, and about two-thirds of Siberia, especially its northern and easternmost areas.
Houses are collapsing
15 million people live in these areas. Many buildings in the far north and east of Russia were built on the assumption that the permafrost would never melt. Even large apartment blocks were built on piles driven below the surface. Now, as the ground goes down with thawing, houses are collapsing.
“There is not a single settlement in the Russian Arctic where a damaged or deformed building cannot be found,” he said in an interview with Reuter Aleksey Maslakov of Moscow State University.
Alexander Fedorov of the Permafrost Institute reported that, in eight settlements in central Yakutia, 72 percent of the residents surveyed said they had experienced problems with subsidence of the foundations of their homes. The researchers measured that as the surface melted, on average, the surface collapsed at a rate of two to four centimeters per year, but there were places where the ground was lowered by as much as 12 cm.
Swamps instead of the runway
Melting permafrost contributed to the closure of the airport in the village of Czurapcza in the 1990s. As the permafrost melted and the ground subsided, the runway turned into an undulating swampy area. According to researchers, this area may one day become a lake.
The area around the airport, where ice wedges have melted inside the ground, the Reuters news agency notes, resembles huge sheets of bubble wrap.
Due to the melting of permafrost, roads are increasingly in need of repair, other non-residential buildings such as warehouses and factories, or infrastructure elements, including oil pipelines, are also at risk.
Permafrost is not “eternal” at all
It turned out that permafrost is not “eternal” at all. The scientists emphasize that the reason is climate change and the increase in the average air temperature on our globe, while it is calculated that Russia is warming 2.8 times faster than the global average. Buildings collapsing and an airport inoperative are not the only and perhaps even – in any of the global terms – not the most serious negative consequences of this. The melting of the tundra releases greenhouse gases, which may undermine the efforts of the international community to reduce their emissions, emphasizes the Reuters agency.
It is like a vicious cycle. – The more the climate warms up, the more greenhouse gases are released from the defrosting permafrost – said Sergey Zimov from the Pacific Geography Institute (part of the Russian Academy of Sciences). This, in turn, the researcher explained, favors a further warming of the climate, and thus accelerates the melting of permafrost.
“All the trees and shrubs on our planet weigh less than the grass roots in Yakutia itself”
“One of the main problems with melting permafrost is that it contains a huge amount of organic carbon,” Zimov noted. Even the roots of the grass that were eaten by mammoths have survived to this day. – As the scientist emphasized, “the mass of all the roots and rotting organic matter in permafrost only in the territory of Yakutia is greater than the entire land biomass of our planet”. “All the trees and shrubs on our planet weigh less than the grass roots in Yakutia itself,” he said.
Permafrost melts “very, very quickly” because it is half ice, he noted. “The walls of ice in summer can retract 20 centimeters in a day,” he added. Zimov explained that when permafrost melts, the microbes that awaken in it begin to “eat” organic matter and turn it either into carbon dioxide or into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The ministry announces research
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment plans to deploy 140 permafrost melting monitoring stations. 30-meter wells will check what is happening underground.
– We need monitoring not only to track what and how is melting – emphasized Minister Aleksander Kozlov. He added that thanks to the research, scientists will be able to predict the consequences of the disappearance of permafrost.
“How can we go against nature? We have to adapt”
Unfortunately, this will not solve the residents’ everyday problems. The house of Igor Daczykowski near the closed airport was built five years ago and has been falling apart since then. Like most in this region, the building has been built on stilts. It rose 30 centimeters above the surface. Now the space between the house and the ground is one meter.
Some neighbors try to sell their houses and start their lives anew elsewhere, but Daczykowski and his family decided to take a risk and stay. More – began building a garage. – How can you go against nature? We have to adapt, he said.
Main photo source: Reuters