Thawing Permafrost Has a Dramatic Impact on the Built Environment – ScienceDaily

Permafrost plays a central role in the sustainable development of the Arctic region. Thawing permafrost is expected to damage buildings and roads, leading to tens of billions of euros in additional costs in the near future, according to an international study coordinated by Finnish geographers.

Permafrost exists abundantly in the Arctic region and in mountain ranges, in places such as the Tibetan Plateau. Construction itself and global warming are causing permafrost to thaw, which in turn threatens both existing infrastructure and future construction projects.

In the review of the literature, which covered the permafrost zone of the entire northern hemisphere, it was noted that the proportion of damaged structures in the entire building stock ranged from less than 10% to 80% . Russia suffered the greatest share of damage, while on the Tibetan Plateau and parts of Canada damage was around 30%.

“According to published research, damage was lowest in the European permafrost zone, such as the Alps and Svalbard,” says Professor Jan Hjort of the University of Oulu’s Geography Research Unit.

Forecasts show growing damage and rising costs

Up to 70% of today’s infrastructure is in the risk zone, considering the warming of the ground caused by climate change. “About 500 Arctic villages and towns are located in areas where permafrost is expected to thaw by the middle of this century,” says Professor Miska Luoto from the Department of Geosciences and Geography, The BioGeoClimate Modeling Lab, at the University of Helsinki.

Transport and transport infrastructure, such as railways, as well as oil and gas pipelines, appear to be in the most vulnerable positions. Relatively speaking, the greatest amount of infrastructure is in the risky areas of the mountainous regions of Central Asia, where permafrost temperatures are already close to 0 degrees Celsius.

“We have to consider that in these geographically very extensive analyzes it was not possible to take into account the “thermal load” caused by the construction and the buildings themselves, so that the threats could easily become tangible in significant damage to buildings before the end of this century,” says Jan Hjort.

Infrastructure maintenance and repair costs related to the bearing capacity of permafrost could reach around 30 billion euros in the Arctic region by 2060. In Russia alone, costs could exceed 20 billion euros . However, the estimates were considered to contain a large amount of uncertainty caused by the data. “The fact that no corresponding cost estimate has been available for the large permafrost areas in China can also be seen as a drawback,” adds Miska Luoto.

Proposals for a more sustainable future

The review also offers ways to try and prepare for future threats. In addition to the many existing building technology solutions, more accurate predictions of future permafrost changes are also needed. More detailed data and forecasts could allow for better surveys of endangered areas and more detailed cost estimates. In addition, better dialogue between researchers, planners, builders, decision makers and other actors in the permafrost zone was considered important in the search for a more sustainable future.

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Materials provided by University of Helsinki. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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