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Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts

By Svetlana Skarbo
06 April 2021

Arctic permafrost is degrading much faster than expected, warn scientists from the extreme north of Yakutia.

Building breaks in middle in the Arctic town of Chersky, and collapses 10 metres down as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts. Picture: Alexander Fedorov


The top layer of the massive 40-metre-deep body of permafrost is thawing worryingly fast in Arctic Yakutia, leading buildings to collapse and previously even roads becoming rollercoasters which even the sturdiest of SUVs struggle to drive. 

It took two years for a building in the port town of Chersky on the Kolyma River, in northeastern Yakutia, to snap in the middle after the once solid permafrost could no longer hold its supporting stilts. 

A concrete road that led to the now defunct sewage treatment plant vanished in the opened ravine, too.

‘Climate scientists tend to seek epic images to show the extent of damage caused by thawing permafrost. Well, I haven’t seen anything more epic yet! 

'This ten metre deep fall happened within two years,’ said Nikita Zimov, director of the North-Eastern Scientific Station outside Chersky. 

Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 

Building breaks in middle in the Arctic town of Chersky, and collapses 10 metres down as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts; roads around the town of Chersky ollapse as underlying permafrost thaws and can no longer support them. Pictures: Alexander Fedorov, Nikita Zimov, The Siberian Times

Permafrost, the mixture of soil, sand and ice lies under cities, towns and vast unpopulated areas of Yakutia, Russia's largest and coldest region. 

Comprising up to 500 gigaton of organic matter like roots of ancient grass, bushes and trees, plus the remains of animals - this is permafrost in Yakutia alone, and by its estimated weight it is heavier than all currently growing Earth's biomass.

It is the world’s biggest reservoir of organic carbon which converts  into a greenhouse gas or into methane once it thaws. 

Speaking to Russian documentary filmmaker Alexander Fedorov, Zimov, 37, said: ‘The temperature of the permafrost is rising, and we are reaching the point when it’ll begin to thaw everywhere, and very actively.

‘We are heading towards a vicious circle when climate warming will speed up the thawing of permafrost, which will in turn add to faster climate warming and further accelerate the thawing, until all active carbon is released from permafrost. 

‘We believe this process will take from one to two hundred years.’

Nikita Zimov


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 


Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 

Nikita Zimov pictured at the Pleistocene Park at the extreme north of Yakutia; pictures show the Duvanny Yar and the Batagai permafrost depressions in the northeast and in Arctic Yakutia. Pictures: Nikita Zimov, The Siberian Times


Nikita, born in Novosibirsk and raised between Western Siberia and Arctic Yakutia, runs an ambitious project called The Pleistocene Park, which aims to restore fauna of mammoth steppes of the Pleistocene Era, and thus cool down the top layer of permafrost and eventually - hopefully - mitigate its thawing.

The park was founded by Nikita’s scientist father Sergey Zimov, who said he spent years trying to attract the world’ attention to the time bomb which the Arctic Yakutia might turn into, given its massive layer of permafrost filled with ancient organic matter across most of its vast territory. 

‘Permafrost is thawing much faster than many expected. Once our permafrost starts to thaw we will no longer need to worry about factories or any other sources of emission, because the main emission of methane will be coming from here. 

‘And the process has started’, Sergey Zimov said. 

Yakutia - also known as Sakha Republic - is the biggest, and the coldest constituent region in the Russian Federation.

Sergey and Nikita Zimov pictured at the Pleistocene Park at the extreme north of Yakutia; video shows giant Batagai permafrost depression in the northeast of Yakutia 

Building breaks in middle and collapses 10 metres as thawing permafrost no longer supports stilts 



See more on degrading permafrost and the change it brings to people living in Russian Arctic in Alexander Fedorov’s documentary Permafrost melts due to climate change. Are we doomed? 

'I wanted to document the effects of climate change and the melting of permafrost in the warmest place on Earth - in the Russian Arctic. I went on a trip along the Kolyma River to talk to the locals and find out how their lives have changed in recent years. And most importantly, how the nature around them has changed. And I made amazing and frightening discoveries.

The film was shot with the support of Greenpeace Russia

Comments (2)

My issue is with this statement: 'We believe this process will take from one to two hundred years.’
Nothing in science suggests it'll take anywhere near that long. We're looking at an extreme and very abrupt warming within this decade. When you take all the factors into account...like the dozens of self reinforcing feedback loops that have already been triggered, time lag, lost carbon sinks, carbon sinks turning into carbon emitters, loss of the aerosol masking effect and thermal inertia. We REALLY don't have years left to play with. Less than 5 years based on the rate at which we're losing all wildlife. Which is set to reach zero by 2026.
Ace, Harlow
15/04/2021 18:06
7
1
The warming effect of the climate is becoming more and more visible, I hope people will live a normal life
Andrew, Poland
15/04/2021 02:51
4
0
1

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