Location Russia Russia

Warning of ‘collapse’ of buildings in Siberia’s permafrost cities in next 35 years

Threat to Salekhard and Anadyr could come even sooner – by the mid-2020s – as thaw of frozen ground is forecast to have ‘devastating’ impact.

A major new academic study has warned of the risk to buildings in urban areas across Russia’s permafrost zone caused by climate change. The Russian-US analysis says a worst-case scenario could lead to a 75-95% ‘reduction in bearing capacity throughout the permafrost region by 2050’.

The authors conclude: ‘This can have a devastating effect on cities built on permafrost.’ Thawing of permafrost ‘can potentially lead to deformation and collapse of structures’.

The study examined four Siberian towns and cities in detail, all within the 63% of Russian territory that is underpinned by permafrost.

These locations were illustrative – and the potential threat to buildings applies in cities across the region because the ‘bearing capacity’ of the hitherto solid ground is weakening, and both residential and industrial structures of all kinds face ‘collapse’.

‘On average, the fastest changes are projected for Salekhard and Anadyr. There the bearing capacity has potential to decrease to critical levels by (the) mid 2020s.

‘In Yakutsk and Norilsk the critical climate-induced decrease in bearing capacity is expected around (the) 2040s.’

The academics – whose work was funded by the Russian Science Foundation and the US National Science Foundation – stress that ‘high uncertainty’ in ‘climatic projections’ does not allow definitive conclusions, and they offer six different scenarios for the speed of the changes.

Yet they stressed that new construction techniques should take into account the changes in permafrost beneath cities.

‘Our analysis demonstrates that climate-induced permafrost changes can potentially undermine the structural stability of foundations indicating a clear need for adopting construction norms and regulations for permafrost regions that account for projected climate changes’.

Numerous studies show the Russian Arctic is warming at a rate of approximately 0.12C a year – ‘significantly faster than the global average’, state the authors. Under more ‘conservative’ predictions, there would still be a decrease of less than 25% in the ‘bearing capacity’.

‘Such change should not significantly affect well-engineered structures,’ said the study, implying less well-built constructions would be undermined.

‘Climate Change and Stability of Urban Infrastructure in Russian Permafrost Regions…’ was authored by Nikolay I Shiklomanov, Dmitry A Streletskiy, Timothy B Swales (all affiliated to The George Washington University), and Vasily A Kokorev, affiliated to the State Hydrological Institute, St Petersburg.  D A Streletskiy is also affiliated to the Earth Cryosphere Institute, Tyumen, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and N I Shiklomanov is also affiliated to the Tyumen State Oil and Gas University, Tyumen.

The study was published in the Geographical Review, journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, 4 October 2016.

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