The looming Arctic collapse: over 40% of buildings in northern Russia begin to collapse


The heat is on and it hits the Arctic with dire consequences. Global warming is now causing rapid and irreversible changes in the North. And Russia is among the most affected.

This week, temperatures in northern Russia broke records again. In Saskylah, a small community in the Arctic Circle, the air temperature reached 31.9 ° C, the highest reading since 1936. According to Roshydromet, the Russian Meteorological Institute, average temperatures along some parts of the Russian Arctic coast have risen since 1998 to 4.95 degrees Celsius.

Aleksandr Kozlov is the Russian Minister of Natural Resources. Photo: Atle Staalesen

Development is a growing concern in Moscow. The country’s Natural Resources Minister Aleksandr Kozlov confirmed that more than 40 percent of all buildings in the North are currently experiencing structural deformation. And building roads and railways is getting more and more difficult, he said at a roundtable last week.

Melting soil is the underlying reason for 23% of all technical system failures in the region today, according to Kozlov, and up to 29% of oil and gas production facilities can no longer be operated. .

Leading Russian researchers estimate that soil degradation by 2050 will inflict damage worth around five trillion rubles (€ 58 billion). This equates to about 25 percent of Russia’s total federal budget.

Norilsk is one of the largest cities in the world north of the Arctic Circle. Photo: Thomas Nilsen


“What will happen to our cities in ten, fifty, a hundred years? the governor of the far north of the Yamal-Nenets region, Dmitri Artyukhov, asked at the conference. He is concerned about the comprehensive construction work underway in his region, much of which is being done without technology appropriate for the region.

According to Artyukhov, the last geological maps of the area date back to the 1980s.

“Every construction worker who comes today to any project [in the region] does not have a clear document describing how permafrost works and the strength margins needed for buildings to last as long as they need, ”said the head of the region.

The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources is launching a new state monitoring system for permafrost this year. The system will be based on existing research facilities managed by the national meteorological authority Roshydromet, and two development phases are envisaged.

The first pilot phase will cover the period 2022-2024 and will be based on the experiences and methodology applied in Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land and Severnaya Zemlya, informs the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Melting permafrost is already affecting operators of Arctic infrastructure, including oil and gas facilities. Experts argued that the spill of 21,000 tonnes of diesel fuel on the Taymyr Peninsula in 2020 came after soil degradation under a large oil storage tank.

Researchers at the Russian Cryosphere Institute believe that over the past 40 years, the border of the permafrost zone has shifted more than 30 km north, and up to 500 square kilometers of land are sliding each years in the Arctic Ocean and disappear.

This process is irreversible and it is impossible to stop it, said the director of the Russian Cryosphere Institute, Dmitry Drozdev.

The melting of the frozen tundra also comes with increasing risks of new and deadly diseases. Among the many infectious disease agents preserved in permafrost is anthrax.

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