Melting Russian Permafrost Threatens Buildings and Infrastructure

Image: Boris Radosavljevic via Wikimedia Commons

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The earth is collapsing under Russia’s northeastern towns as global warming melts the permafrost beneath them. Permafrost occupies 65% of Russia’s landmass, making this massive thawing particularly destructive. 


“There isn’t a single settlement in Russia’s Arctic where you wouldn’t find a destroyed or deformed building,” said Alexey Maslakov, a lead researcher at Moscow State University


Why this Matters: More than 15 million Russians live on permafrost foundations, and the Russian government could incur $97 billion in infrastructure damage by 2050 if warming continues.


Moreover, permafrost melt threatens not only Russia but also the rest of the world. As the tundra thaws, it releases greenhouse gases. Scientists have referred to Russian permafrost as a methane time bombdue to the prevalence of methane deposits trapped in the ice that could be released as the region heats up. Russia is warming 2.8 times faster than the global average, making the potential consequences even more intense.


On Thin Ice

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Soviet Russia was establishing settlements deep in the arctic, it seemed as if the permafrost would never thaw. But now, gas lines, pipes, electric lines, roads, and buildings are damaged as the earth melts beneath them. According to a recent survey, in eight settlements in the northeast Russian region of Yakutia, 72% of people reported problems with the subsidence of their homes’ foundations.


Scientists have begun to monitor permafrost thawing more precisely, establishing 140 monitoring stations across the country in hopes that they could predict and avert more destruction. But for some whose homes have already been damaged, it’s already too late.

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