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Permafrost Becomes Insecure


Russian scientists have discovered territories in the North that will run the greatest risk in the course of permafrost thawing, they have also calculated degree of risk for towns, industrial facilities and main lines.

Global climate warming makes attacks on permafrost. Accurate forecast is very important as the permafrost ground status would drive the future of all northern towns and industrial facilities. Researchers of the State Hydrological Institute (St. Petersburg) have undertaken such a forecast. Their effort resulted in prognostic maps, where the higher risk zone was determined along the Arctic coast and degree of risk for towns, main lines, pipelines and other infrastructures of the North were calculated.

The researchers used several climate change scenarios based on five mathematical models to forecast the spread area, temperature and depth of seasonal permafrost thawing through. According to their estimates, reduction of the entire permafrost area in the northern hemisphere will make 10% to 18% by 2030, 15% to 25% by 2050 and 25% to 50% by 2080. The depth of seasonal thawing through will increase heterogeneously both in terms of timescale and space. In the next thirty years to come, the changes will be relatively insignificant but by mid-century the depth of thawing through will increase by 15% to 25% and more, and by 2080 - by 30% to 50%. Therefore, it can be expected by the end of the 21st century that the permafrost zone will reduce by half, and the depth of seasonal thawing through will double.

It is not enough to calculate the extent the permafrost reduction, the most important is to determine the affect on its bearing strength. The “cryopedology risk index” serves this purpose, the index being computational by definite formula.

Having applied this formula to the northern territories of Russia, the scientists discovered that the high cryopedology risk zone covers all of the Arctic coast, where extensive coast erosion will take place. The high risk zone includes towns and settlements - Salekhard, Igarka, Dudinka, Tiksi in Russia, and Barrow and Inuvik in the USA, pipelines and installations of the gas production system Nadym-Pur-Taz in the North-West of Siberia. Yakutsk, Norilsk, Vorkuta, major part of Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur main lines run moderate risk. Natural and man-caused calamities can be prevented in these locations only through purposeful investments aimed to support infrastructures of the North.

Sergey Komarov | alfa
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