…is certainly warmer than the coldest place to live ON earth.
And it becomes warmer inside because permafrost thaws in Siberia and climate change brings houses to collapse.
In the coldest city worldwide, permafrost is thawing:
Buildings built on it are now in danger of collapse.
The coldest city on earth starts to collapse. In the Russian city of Yakutsk, Siberia, with just under 270,000 inhabitants, damage to buildings is increasing. These buildings are built on permafrost soils (year-round frozen soils). Due to global warming, these soils melt away underneath the houses.
Up to 40 centimeters deep, the houses, which are built on concrete stilts, have sunk in the past year. This causes great damage to the buildings.
Yarkutia (also called Sacha), which is five
times the size of France, the whole soil is of permafrost.
In Yakutsk, extreme continental climatic conditions prevail: In January, the coldest month of the year, the average temperature is minus 43.2 degrees Celsius.
Permafrost soils cover large areas of the northern hemisphere – especially in Russia, Canada, Alaska and western China.
The thawing of the soils hide another danger. Since recent ice age they conserve gigantic amounts of organic material in peat layers that are hundreds of meters thick sometimes. If these layers thaw, decomposition begins. The phenomenon has been known for some time as a possible so-called tipping point in the climate system. These are certain feedback effects that could make climate change irreversible.
In an Austrian-Russian research project, ZAMG is researching permafrost on the Yamal peninsula in northwestern Siberia. Defrosting the upper soil layers releases large amounts of carbon, which contribute to global warming. Based on measurements on the ground and with satellites, a map for the entire northern polar region has now been compiled for the first time, enabling the calculation of the released carbon.
For the first time a detailed data set on the state of the land surface in the permafrost regions of the entire northern polar region: The new map (left) shows about 30 percent as a wetland. In previous maps (right) it was only one to seven percent. These wetlands are summer thawing zones above the permafrost (marked in blue) on level terrain. Yellow marks are dry tundra zone and rock. Photo © Map left: ZAMG / TU Vienna. Map on the right: GlobCover
Photo: Davie Olefeld
Permafrost is the term used to refer to soils that are frozen at a certain depth all year round. The permafrost on the Yamal peninsula in northwestern Siberia (Russia) is thawing due to global warming more and more. Climate models suggest that permafrost in this region will completely disappear by the year 2100.
Defrosting releases carbon
Increasingly thawing has a strong impact on the region’s infrastructure, such as roads, railways, buildings and pipelines. In Jamal are some world’s largest natural gas production facilities, which are also exported to Central Europe. On the other hand, thawing releases large amounts of carbon, which has been bound in the ground for millennia. Carbon (C) in the form of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) spread in the atmosphere enhances the greenhouse effect and thus contributes to the warming of the earth.
Interaction between soils and climate
ZAMG is currently working on an Austro-Russian project that investigates the natural and human influences on permafrost and the effects of thawing. Project leader on behalf of Austria is ZAMG climate researcher Annett Bartsch: “Since 1980s, Russia has been carrying out regular measurements on Jamal. This is one of the world’s longest permafrost and annual thaw depths. We are responsible for the analysis of the satellite data of the project. The combination of data from individual measurements allow long-term analyzes for the entire northern polar region. These data then turn into computer models that calculate the interactions between soil and climate. ”
But what can WE do? We feel so unconscious facing these huge changes.
We can do little steps. Step by step. If everyone does, the steps will become bigger.
Let’s donate a tree – or let’s start in our kitchen by using organic cleaners. That’s what we can do withing our little world.
More wetlands than previously thought
Thus, for the first time within the framework of the Austrian-Russian project, an important boundary condition of the models could be determined in great detail. From ground measurements and satellite data, a very detailed soil data set was compiled for the entire northern polar region.
Among other things, it enables to calculate how much methane is released into the atmosphere every summer. Previous maps had only one to seven percent wetlands, the new map shows 30 percent.
“It is also important that we can use satellite measurements to determine the large fluctuations in surface hydrology over the course of a year very precisely,” climate researcher Bartsch says, “which is closely linked to permafrost and methane emissions.
For example, German TerraSAR-X satellite gives us an extremely high spatial resolution of up to two meters, whereas the Japanese ALOS-2 satellite only works with a resolution of twelve meters, but penetrates deeper into the vegetation during the measurements and provides valuable information on changes in the upper layers of the soil. The European satellite Sentinel-1 also provides information on the depth of freezing of the lakes in winter. ”
Mystery around round craters and lakes
The project is also about solving some still unsolved puzzles of permafrost, such as the very regular round and deep craters and lakes that have arisen in recent years. “Research by colleagues at the Russian Academy of Sciences suggests that thawing and methane also play a major role here,” Annett Bartsch explains. “When ground thaws, methane bubbles collected underground in caves escape at a single blow and the ground cover breaks in. Melting water causes lakes within the craters.”
Mankind intensifies thawing of permafrost
Man also has a big influence on the permafrost. How far soil thaws is also strongly related to growth. In addition to natural erosion, large construction projects play an important role, such as roads, railway lines and cities.
“Measurements show that changes caused by human activities can trigger a cycle. If, for example, the fouling caused by construction measures becomes less, erosion occurs, which in turn can further reduce the growth. In this way, the thawing of permafrost is not only affected by climate change. ”
Defrosting depth has increased by 30 centimeters
Due to global warming as well as natural and human influences, permafrost has thawed steadily in recent years. The seasonal thawing depth on Jamal has grown by about 30 centimeters since the 1980s until today. The summer of 2015 also thawed the soil above average, climate researcher Bartsch says: “The 0-degree limit was measured this year at up to 150 centimeters. The average value since the beginning of the measurements is 140 centimeters. In the 1980s, it was less deep with a maximum of 120 centimeters. ”
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