The latest installment in a Washington Post series on “hot zones” around the world that are already enduring “extreme climate change” focuses on the federal Russian republic in eastern Siberia called Yakutia, part of which “has warmed by more than 3 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times—roughly triple the global average.”
Rising global temperatures from human activity are causing the world’s permafrost—a mix of soil, rocks, and sand that remains frozen for two or more consecutive years—to thaw and release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, further warming the planet.
In Siberia, according to the Post, “the permafrost that once sustained farming—and upon which villages and cities are built—is in the midst of a great thaw, blanketing the region with swamps, lakes, and odd bubbles of earth that render the land virtually useless.”
The report, entitled “Radical Warming in Siberia Leaves Millions on Unstable Ground,” was published Thursday as part of the newspaper’s “2°C: Beyond the Limit” series.
Post journalist Chris Mooney, who co-authored Thursday’s report with Anton Troianovski, detailed some key takeaways in a lengthy Twitter thread Friday.
Although there are global implications for thawing permafrost, “this story is about what is happening locally,” Mooney wrote, “which is also very stunning and dramatic.”
Mooney and Troianovski, in their report, outlined some of the regional results of permafrost thaw:
The thawing has helped fuel “migration from the countryside to cities and towns,” they reported. The population of Yakutsk, the republic’s capital city, has soared 20 percent in the past decade, but it “offers no escape from the warming climate.”
“As the permafrost thaws and recedes, a handful of apartment buildings there are showing signs of structural problems,” Mooney and Troianovski explained. “Sections of many older, wooden buildings already sag toward the ground—rendered uninhabitable by the unevenly thawing earth. New apartment blocks are being built on massive pylons extending ever deeper—more than 40 feet—below ground.”
The thawing also has led to a “rotting smell” that comes from decomposing animals and plants that were previously frozen for thousands of years. “Against this backdrop, a booming cottage industry in mammoth hunting has taken hold,” as locals seek out tusks to cash in on international demand for ivory.
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