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Scientists name Yakutia’s districts at risk from thawing permafrost

Earlier, experts of the Higher School of Economics said the damage caused by methane emissions in the Arctic could make $80 billion a year

YAKUTSK, June 8. /TASS/. Scientists of the Melnikov Permafrost Institute (the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian Branch) came to the conclusion that about 40% of Yakutia’s territory are at risk from the thawing permafrost, degradation of which increases due to the climate changes, the institute’s Deputy Director Alexander Frolov told TASS.

Earlier, experts of the Higher School of Economics said the damage caused by methane emissions in the Arctic could make $80 billion a year. The experts stressed that the involuntary release of methane from the Arctic shelf hydrates into the Earth's atmosphere due to the melting of underwater permafrost can negate all human efforts to prevent the global warming.

"According to the conclusions made by experts of the Permafrost Institute, about 40% of Yakutia’s territory risk greatly from the current climate warming, while in that region the environment requires very accurate attitudes," the scientist said. "Some villages are located on the hard-ice permafrost - due to our history, the social, economic and cultural conditions."

"Those settlements were the first to feel the permafrost has been thawing, and they require assistance," he added.

Adaptation to changes

Control of the catastrophic cryogenic processes, caused by the thawing underground ice, requires state support, the expert said. "First of all, we must have an insurance system, like the one used in floods, and people, living in high-risk areas, must insure their houses and buildings," he told TASS. "Those who suffer from the cryogenic processes must use insurance payments."

Any development of new territories and making new infrastructures must be exclusively in stable areas. "We know those areas - they take about 60% of Yakutia’s territory, and they are not only in mountainous places," he continued. "Scientists are unable to forecast how long the current climate warming will continue, thus, the regional authorities together with the Russian government must address adaptation mechanisms, stable social and economic structures in the warming climate."

According to an expert of the Moscow Construction University Mikhail Rabinovich, big settlements may re-open permafrost services, which could collect and process data on buildings’ conditions and on ground temperatures. "This work must be organized in cooperation with the emergencies ministry, involving specialists from universities, and from projecting, construction and research institutions," Rabinovich said.

Quite a lot depends on the federal regulations, but anyway even regional instruments may be effective, an expert of the Permafrost Institute and the Far Eastern Federal University Nikita Tananayev said. "In fact, more important is not to be working with fires, but to have good management of forest resources," he said. "First of all, we must stop cutting wood by lakes. Not a single measure will be effective without reasonable approaches, ecology education. And a lot depends on how conscientious the local residents are."

Changing climate

The situation in Yakutia, related to the permafrost’s thawing, already now can be called critical, Fedorov said. "Climate experts have confirmed that the global warming in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic is about 2-2.5 times stronger than elsewhere. This is also true regarding the permafrost. According to results of the monitoring we have conducted, active cryogenic processes in the permafrost in Yakutia began in the early 1980s, and the process has been only growing," he said.

This growth has been specifically strong over two recent decades. The permafrost reacts to the climate changes in landscapes, for example, woods protect very well the perennially frozen soils from the warming, while open areas without forests, such as meadows, burning areas, clearings, and especially infrastructures, linear structures, arable land, and others are affected most of all under the present conditions, the expert said. However, permafrost soils vary - some are with little ice, quite many are with much ice, and they are not stable.

Tananayev forecasts unfavorable weather conditions would only grow. "Right now we must get ready for situations, where in high-water seasons ice jams would be only more often, and the high-water seasons would begin earlier. Another problem which requires close attention is the wildfires," he said.

In the Arctic zone, he explained, "in case the average air temperature rises to a certain level within a week or month of the wildfire season, the fire probability jumps by a few times." This was evident last year (2020), when anomalous heat in Yakutia’s north caused big wildfires in the Arctic.

President’s reaction

On June 4, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that Russia, like other countries, is aware of the risks and threats in the ecology sphere, "including desertification, soil erosion and melting permafrost." The president stressed the Russian Arctic has cities built on the permafrost, and the thawing causes concerns.

"We are consistent supporters of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. I must emphasize that there is no separate Russian, European, Asian, or American climate," the president said. "All our countries bear a common responsibility for today’s world and for the lives of future generations."