Right now, Siberia is better known for icy landscapes, strange-colored snow, and perfectly preserved Ice Age fossilized animals than it is for its temperate climes and green spaces but that is set to change. This is according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters. Indeed, the researchers found that even “mild” climate change could enable its population to grow 500 percent by the 2080s.
"Asian Russia is currently extremely cold," lead author Elena Parfenova from Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Center said in a statement.
"In a future warmer climate, food security in terms of crop distribution and production capability is likely to become more favorable for people to support settlements."
Asian Russia encompasses a vast stretch of land east of the Urals and towards the Pacific. Although at 13 million square kilometers (5 million square miles), it makes up 77 percent of Russian landmass, it houses just 27 percent of the population. That 27 percent is largely concentrated along the forest-steppe in the south, where the climate is less harsh and the soil is more fertile.
But as average temperatures climb in response to human-caused climate change, and while great chunks of the Earth become overwhelmed by heat or submerged in water, Siberia may develop a slightly more pleasant – if not quite Mediterranean – climate.
For the study, the team came up with two CO2 Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios – RCP 2.6 describing mild climate change and RCP 8.5 describing more extreme climate change. These scenarios were then used to calculate temperature and precipitation changes to the subcontinental territory of Asian Russia to find out how they affected three climate indices considered important as far as human livelihood and wellbeing is concerned. One, can the land sustain a human community? (I.e. what is its Ecological Landscape Potential, or ELP?) Two, how severe is the average winter? And three, how extensive is the permafrost coverage?
The models suggest a 3.4°C (RCP 2.6) to 9.1°C (RCP 8.5) temperature rise in mid-winter (January) and a 1.9°C (RCP 2.6) to 5.7°C (RCP 8.5) temperature rise in mid-summer (July), with precipitation levels increasing 60 mm (RCP 2.6) to 140 mm (RCP 8.5) per year. This means that even under RCP 2.6, ELP would be enhanced in more than 15 percent of Asian Russia, equating to a possible five-fold increase in its capacity to sustain human settlements. Meanwhile, under RCP 8.5, ELP would be enhanced in more than 50 percent of Asian Russia.
“Our simulations showed that under RCP8.5, by the 2080s Asian Russia would have a milder climate, with less permafrost coverage, decreasing from the contemporary 65 percent to 40 percent of the area by the 2080s,” Parfenova explained.
While things may be looking rosier for Siberia in the future, don’t pack up your stuff and sell your house just yet. Not only, as the researchers point out, does Siberia’s “poorly developed infrastructure” pose something of a dilemma as far as human settlement is concerned, there are the small problems of methane bubbles, “zombie anthrax”, and ancient viruses to contend with.
Suddenly your noisy neighbor and north facing garden don’t sound quite so bad.