Permafrost thaws by two more centimeters per year
According to Sergei Davydov, climate warming and permafrost thawing in Russia's northern regions can affect the infrastructure, but the existing level of monitoring and modern construction techniques will make it possible to respond to ongoing changes in a timely manner.
Davydov is a senior researcher at the Northeastern Research and Experimental Station in the village of Chersky, Pacific Institute of Geography, Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"We have been conducting research for over 30 years now, since 1990. For example, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere went from 360 to 410. The amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased significantly as we know from gas analyzer data. The permafrost has warmed up significantly by one and, in some areas, two degrees in a matter of one decade," he said.
According to the researcher, a thin layer of permafrost thaws during the summer, depending on the landscape. Earlier, this number has always been less than one meter, but now it's already more than that in some areas. On average, there's an increase of two centimeters per year. At the same time, the ice thickness has decreased, and the amount of snow (precipitation) is increasing. Humidity is up and, accordingly, the soil isn't getting as frozen during the winter. Thermokarst lakes are formed in the permafrost. The number of wildfires is on the rise as well.
"Average annual temperatures have changed," Davydov said. "Humidity is up with more rainfall. We're primarily concerned about damage to the infrastructure. It takes more money to support and closely monitor this. Infrastructure and oil pipelines are under pressure. According to the Alaskan authorities, $3 billion to $6 billion will be needed each year to offset the damage caused by permafrost thawing."
Even though Russia has more modern and advanced technology for building on permafrost, and many buildings are built with heat-insulating materials to prevent direct contact with the ground, these insulators are also at risk.
According to Sergei Davydov, warming has an upside as well: as the climate becomes more comfortable, the heating season will be shorter, and costs involved in providing supplies to workers will decrease. Less ice in the Arctic is good for shipping, and Far Eastern fish can be transported westward across the Northern Sea Route at low cost.
On the other hand, ice melting in the Arctic may increase the number of storms off the shelf. Today, major companies operating in the region, as well as various groups of researchers, are monitoring warming in order to avoid damage to the infrastructure.
"These developments are being tracked," Davydov said. "Special services are doing a good job putting together forecasts, and major companies are making them as well. Space monitoring is used quite extensively. In addition, oil pipelines were built with a safety margin of 20 to 30 years, and the risks were taken into account. It's just that now (infrastructure maintenance — Ed.) has become more expensive.