Siberian Permafrost Cities In Danger Of Collapse In The Next 35 Years


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

Derelict buildings built on permafrost in Norilsk, Russia, one of the cities studied. Nordroden/Shutterstock

As we all know, climate change is a very real and dangerous thing. Parts of the world are warming at an unprecedented rate and one of those places being hardest hit is the permafrost in Siberia.

Not content with the melting permafrost causing mass die-offs of reindeer and resurrecting long-dead strains of “zombie anthrax”, it appears the very cities built on the permafrost are also in imminent danger, according to new Russian-US research.


The study, published in the journal Geographical Review, warns of the risk to buildings and infrastructure in urban areas across the Russian permafrost region due to climate change. According to the authors, in a worst case scenario, the “bearing capacity” of buildings built on permafrost could be reduced by 75-95 percent by 2050.

Basically, the thawing of the permafrost “can potentially lead to deformation and collapse of structures.”

The study looked at four Siberian cities in detail – Salekhard, Norilsk, Yakutsk, and Anadyr – each within the region underpinned by permafrost that makes up 63 percent of Russian territory. Numerous studies have shown the Russian Arctic is warming at a rate of 0.12°C (0.22°F) a year, which is significantly higher than the global average.

"On average, the fastest changes are projected for Salekhard and Anadyr. There the bearing capacity has potential to decrease to critical levels by (the) mid-2020s,” according to the authors. “In Yakutsk and Norilsk, the critical climate-induced decrease in bearing capacity is expected around (the) 2040s."


The authors stress that although climate projections are not definitive conclusions, new construction techniques should take into consideration the changes in the permafrost that have happened and will continue happening.

"Our analysis demonstrates that climate-induced permafrost changes can potentially undermine the structural stability of foundations, indicating a clear need for adopting construction norms and regulations for permafrost regions that account for projected climate changes."

The study concludes that a significant reduction in the stability of urban infrastructure in the Siberian permafrost region should be expected by the mid-21st century. We're not really sure what is holding President Putin back from ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, as it is rather apparent Russia needs to act sooner rather than later. 


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  • permafrost,

  • Russia,

  • Siberia,

  • Infrastructure