Russia's Attack from Below

As soil temperatures go up, buildings are coming down in the Arctic Circle.

As Alec Luhn recently documented in his article for the UK’s Guardian, Russia is fighting a new war on its northern front – and the battle wages from within, or below.

Regardless of why they’re rising, it’s a quantifiable fact that global temperatures are increasing. And although we’re only talking about a two-degree increase since 1900, the Arctic has seen more gradual warming than anywhere else on earth.

And the earth is where Russia is feeling the impact. As soil temperatures increase, that warmth is seeping into this region’s permafrost.  The permafrost is basically the layer of dirt and rocks that remains frozen, unlike the top 10’ or so of ground that freezes and thaws each year with the passing seasons.

As more of this permafrost begins to thaw, the foundations of buildings anchored to it are buckling.

While this problem also threatens sparse populations in Alaska, Canada and other northern areas, Russia has more than a half-million people living in three of the largest cities this far north. In one such city, Norilsk, it’s estimated that up to 60 percent of all buildings have been structurally compromised due to a shrinking permafrost.

If this city sounds familiar that’s because it was the focal point of a report from my colleague Anna Wells on a chemical release that turned the surrounding River Doldykan red about 5 weeks ago.

It’s worth noting that engineers and geologists feel technogenic factors like sewers, building heat and chemical pollution are also impacting the permafrost.

However, the cause is only part of Russia’s problem. Because in order to address it, they’d have to acknowledge it.

And acknowledging these problems creates a number of headaches. First, they’d have to recognize global warming – a topic the Russian media rarely mentions. They’d also have to do more than just throw some spackle and fresh paint on cracking and crumbling walls. Demolition and rebuilding would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per structure.

Finally, Russia has consistently pointed to this area as vital in its future energy and military strategies. So admitting to concerns about its viability would call for some significant back-tracking – not exactly a Russian strength.

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