Thawing permafrost

Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON)

Evgeny Chuvilin

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Sea ice and diet

Our changing home

Thawing permafrost

Our changing home

Climate change affects all regions and countries of the world, and the Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet1. The entire territory of the North, Siberia and the Russian Far East is a place of traditional settlement of Indigenous Peoples, and most of it lies on permafrost, land that is frozen year-round.

As the Arctic warms and permafrost is no longer permanent, inhabitants of Russia’s Arctic are experiencing troubling and sometimes dangerous disruptions to their lives.

Climate warming in the Arctic is leading to a significant change in the economic activities of Indigenous peoples. The migration routes of wild animals are changing, which means that hunters carry additional temporary, transport and material resources. Nomad reindeer herders have fewer opportunities to choose good calving sites due to the early spring floods. Fishermen note that the water has become warmer and the fish go to depths where the temperature regime is more suitable for them, but this reduces the chances of fishermen for a good catch of fish. Grigorii Dyukarev, RAIPON / Co-vice Chair of SDWG
Near-surface permafrost in the High Arctic and other very cold areas has warmed by more than 0.5°C since 2007–2009, and the layer of the ground that thaws in summer has deepened in most areas where permafrost is monitored. - Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) 2017 3

Permafrost in numbers

66%
More than 66% of Arctic settlements are located on permafrost1.
20%
The area of near-surface permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere is projected to decline by 20% by 2040, relative to 2017. Impacts will vary widely at regional and local scales. 2
2-3%
Arctic permafrost has warmed by 2-3% since the 1970s.1

Effects of permafrost thaw

Credit: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

Craters and hills

In 2014, giant craters were discovered in Yamal for the first time near gas fields.

Dr. Bogoyavlensky from the Oil and Gas Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences investigated the phenomenon and has discovered more than 1.5 thousand lakes with craters of gas emissions in Yamal

He also identified over 7,000 “Bulgunnyakhs” as the Nenets call them – swollen hills of permafrost that are also known as pingos. These hummocks sometimes explode, throwing pieces of ice and frozen rock 10-20 meters.

Yamal reindeer herder, illustration photo. Credit: Georgy Golovin / iStock

Disease

The thawing of permafrost can uncover diseases that have long been frozen. In 2016, Yamal was quarantined due to an outbreak of anthrax for the first time in 75 years. More than 2,000 reindeer were reported to have died from the disease, and a cutaneous form of anthrax was found in humans. Both humans and reindeers received vaccinations against future outbreaks.

Sakha Republic fires, July 2020. Photo: Pierre Markuse / flickr / CC-BY-2.0

Fire

There is a legend about “burning lakes” or the emission of fire from the ground in the traditional knowledge of the Nenets people. They associate these events with the fateful signs from the spirit world.
- Anna Otke

Fires in Yakutia during August 2021 were larger than all other fires in the world combined. Their area grows year by year, often leading to air pollution and danger for communities. Air pollution in Yakutsk was 247 times higher than the WHO guideline in August 2021, and the Yukaghir village of Byas-Kyuel has just been rebuilt following a devastating fire.

In addition to climate change, record heat and drought, dry thunderstorms with frequent lightning strikes and human activity contribute to Arctic fires.

Flooding along the Amur River, June 2021. Photo: EMERCOM

Floods

In 2021, flooding in the Siberian regions was the worst on record. In the Amur Region flooding caused 6 billion rubles ($80 million USD) of damage, 23 villages were flooded in Trans-Baikal and a state of emergency was declared in the regions of the Khabarovsk Territory.

"Thawing permafrost disrupts transportation and affects buildings and infrastructure such as pipelines, airports, and industrial facilities, as well as water and wastewater distribution systems."

- Arctic Climate Change Update 2019 - An Update To Key Findings Of Snow, Water, Ice And Permafrost In The Arctic (SWIPA) 2017 2

Considering that the world is facing a complex of serious risks such as a pandemic, it is important to address climate change in interrelated manner: the need to create conditions for human / nature adaptation and the adaptation of economies. The problem of administering climate policy lies precisely in the interplay of economic, energy, ecology, public health, regional development, international politics, etc. issues. This includes ensuring the availability of modern State social support measures and modern medical services, organizing security measures and preventing damage to environmental security and natural disasters. Grigory Ledkov

Ancient species emerge

Mammoth bone carving is a traditional craft of Indigenous Peoples. An unusual side effect of permafrost thaw is that these ancient animals are being found more often.

In 2021, the bones of a mammoth’s forelimbs were discovered in the Tambey area, in a stream flowing into the Yabtayakha River by reindeer herder Konstantin Tusida.

Mammoth ivory. Photo: Gregoiuz / flickr / CC NC BY


First-hand experience

Elena Popova from Yakutia, Russia on how permafrost thaw affects her culture.

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