Excursion to Yakutsk Permafrost Institute. Did the global warming (climate changes) affect Yakutia?

Yakutsk Permafrost Institute

Yakutsk Permafrost Institute with its underground laboratory in the form of tunnel is a sort of a must-to-see sight in the capital of Siberia’s Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). It is the most visited by international guests.

The last year before The Copenhagen Climate Change Summit it became a real Mecca to international journalists, who wanted to know whether the global warming affected the life of the only city in the world, that was entirely built on permafrost.

The funny thing is that reporters were eager to hear institute chiefs saying «Yes, Yakutsk experiences the consequences of the global warming, grounds are being melted, buildings are collapsing, everything is turning into a big swamp.» Their questions sounded in an appropriate way «Does the climate change (the euphemism for «the global warming») affect the life and infrustructure of Yakutsk?» And what they heared in replies, dissapointed them thoroughly.

Therefore, feeling all expenses on travel to the remote Siberian city to be in vain, they asked a question in another way «What would happen to the city, if the global warming would eventually gain the ground?» The answer sounded as predicted «There would be ground melted, buildings collapsed, and everything would remind as a big swamp.»

Permafrost occupies 60 percent of Yakutia. The max depth is approx. 5 metres.

Permafrost occupies 60 percent of Yakutia. The max depth is approx. 5 metres.

So, what did and do the Permafrost Institute workers usually say in reply to such questions?

Viktor Shepelev, deputy director of Yakutsk Permafrost Institute

Viktor Shepelev, deputy director of Yakutsk Permafrost Institute

Viktor Shepelev is the deputy director of Yakutsk Permafrost Institute. He is responsible for the institute’s research work. It’s mainly him, who explains the current state of the Siberian permafrost to international interviewers.

In the beginning he admits that climate changes were fixed and recorded. He says that the average temperature in the ground indeed increased approximately by 2 degrees. But… periods of cold and hot seasons remain the same. The winter is not shorter neither longer. So does the summer. Besides, snow cover stays as thin as before. You know, snow cover is like a fur coat, that is able to hold the warmth. If snow is thick, ground would keep more warmth. If thin, it wouldn’t. And it is thin. Snowfalls happen in October and early Novermber and that’s all for the whole winter, that ends up as usual in April only.

With no other significant factors, these 2 degrees do not signify. The permafrost remains stable and not altered in Yakutsk and Yakutia at all.

By the way, here is another interesting information from Viktor Shepelev.

According to him and his colleagues, climate changes are cyclic. They are characterized by three types of changes. At this moment, he starts usually showing the diagram with three amplitudes and naming them by special terms. Please, forgive me, but I forgot them. Nevetheless, let’s continue.

Further Mr. Shepelev says that last decades indeed went under the flag of warming. This period will come to the end by 2015. After it will be replaced by the long COLD period. [If you like, you can call this as «the global freezing». That’s my joke]. By the way, their Fairbanks-based colleagues has the same research results and evidences.

The span between 2010 and 2015 is the transition time, when all those mentioned amplitudes almost coincide with each other. That’s why now we can see cold and warm spells simultaneously in winter.

Melting islands in Laptev Sea, near the Lena River, North Yakutia

Melting islands in Laptev Sea, near the Lena River, North Yakutia

Diagrams of how fast North Yakutia's islands get melted

Diagrams of how fast North Yakutian islands get melted

At the same time, Viktor Shepelev says that, if the territory of Yakutia remains unaltered and unaffected, its islands in Laptev Sea got in the process of the fast melting. They consist mainly of ice. More vivid this process became in the last decade. In the above diagram you can see how two sites in the Buor-Khaya Bay area, Muostakh Island and Bykovsky Peninsula (Mamomtovy Khayata), are disappearing gradually. Is it in the result of the global warming? It might be so. Maybe, it is the underground sources of methanes, that force ice in Russia’s Arctic to be melted.

Well, the above lecture is the first part of the excursion. By the way, the lecture by the deputy director is a rare thing. It is done for important visitors only :)

The second part is the descending into the underground laboratory of the Yakutsk Permafrost Institute. The entrance (a massive blue metal door) is located in the center of the building, on the first floor, from where the wooden stairs lead 3 meters down into the tunnel called the institute’s underground lab.

The tunnel is horizontel. Very short, about 25 meters in length. And it is very low.

The guide of the Permafrost Institute underground lab.

The guide of the Permafrost Institute underground lab.

The guide is an elderly person, and he looks very sever. He can say «Get through the entrance very quick. We don’t want warm air to get into the tunnel.» Or he can allow himself saying «Don’t touch these. You can damage these crystals, that took a few years to be formed into such beauty.»

I didn’t want to break any crystals. Really. But I was misfortuned and crashed two or three of them by my hat. I am telling you, the tunnel was too low in height for me. I felt really sorry, and regret that I did that with what nature worked years on.

Take a look at the whole set of photographs (in larger sizes) I managed to take in the course of my excursion to Yakutsk Permafrost Institute a month ago.

Oh, forgot to share with another info. Viktor Shepelev also says that he worries about one thing. If huge forest reserves in South America and Siberia would be demolished, permafrost will be affected apparently.

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