Graphic shows Russia’s permafrost regions.
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ENVIRONMENT

Russia’s “Kingdom of Winter” is thawing

By Duncan Mil

October 22, 2019 - As the Arctic, including much of Siberia, warms twice as fast as the rest of the world, the permafrost -- permanently frozen ground -- is thawing, putting cities, oil pipelines and other infrastructure at risk.

Permafrost covers some 65 per cent of Russia, and Siberia’s permafrost area is home to 80 per cent of Russia’s natural gas operations. Thawing is especially worrisome for mining, oil and gas companies in Russia’s so-called “Kingdom of Winter.”

The annual losses of the Russian economy due to permafrost thawing range from 50 to 150 billion rubles ($2.3 billion) a year, Alexander Krutikov, Deputy Minister for Development of the Far East and the Arctic said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Scientists say the planet’s warming must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius -- but Siberia’s temperatures have already spiked far beyond that.

A large area of eastern Siberia called Yakutia -- an area one-third the size of the United States -- has risen at double or even triple the global average rate, according to work by Yakutsk-based scientists Fedorov and Alexey Gorokhov.

In Yakutia’s town of Srednekolymsk, summer used to last from June 1 to September 1 but now extends a couple of weeks longer on both ends. Warmer winters and longer summers are steadily thawing the frozen earth that covers 90 per cent of Yakutia.

Yakutia’s permafrost formed during the Late Pleistocene, the planet’s last glacial period which ended about 11,700 years ago, and contains an estimated 70 billion tonnes of methane.

As the permafrost thaws, animals and plants frozen for thousands of years begin to decompose and send a steady flow of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere -- fueling the cycle of carbon release and temperature rise.

PUBLISHED:22/10/2019; STORY: Graphic News
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