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Warning of 'collapse' of buildings in Siberia's permafrost cities in next 35 years

By 0 and 0 and 0
28 December 2016


The 'bearing capacity' of the hitherto solid ground is weakening, and both residential and industrial structures of all kinds face 'collapse'. Picture:

A major new academic study has warned of the risk to buildings in urban areas across Russia's permafrost zone caused by climate change. The Russian-US analysis says a worst-case scenario could lead to a 75-95% 'reduction in bearing capacity throughout the permafrost region by 2050'.

The authors conclude: 'This can have a devastating effect on cities built on permafrost.' Thawing of permafrost 'can potentially lead to deformation and collapse of structures'.

The study examined four Siberian towns and cities in detail, all within the 63% of Russian territory that is underpinned by permafrost. 


The study examined four Siberian towns and cities: Salekhard, Norilsk, Yakutsk and Anadyr.  Picture: The Siberian Times

These locations were illustrative - and the potential threat to buildings applies in cities across the region because the 'bearing capacity' of the hitherto solid ground is weakening, and both residential and industrial structures of all kinds face 'collapse'.

'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.

'In Yakutsk and Norilsk the critical climate-induced decrease in bearing capacity is expected around (the) 2040s.'  






The collapse of the corner of the building in the center of Yakutsk in 1999, pictured by Mikhail Grigoriev. Cracks in the buildings in the center of Yakutsk spotted in 2015 - 2016 pictured by The Siberian Times and Corvair

The academics - whose work was funded by the Russian Science Foundation and the US National Science Foundation - stress that 'high uncertainty' in 'climatic projections' does not allow definitive conclusions, and they offer six different scenarios for the speed of the changes.

Yet they stressed that new construction techniques should take into account the changes in permafrost beneath cities. 

'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'.




Salekhard, the capital of Yamal, can face serious problems in mid 2020s. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Numerous studies show the Russian Arctic is warming at a rate of approximately 0.12C a year - 'significantly faster than the global average', state the authors. Under more 'conservative' predictions, there would still be a decrease of less than 25% in the 'bearing capacity'.

'Such change should not significantly affect well-engineered structures,' said the study, implying less well-built constructions would be undermined. 






Under bright colors Anadyr hides cracks and pingos. Pictures:, Evgeny Basov

'Climate Change and Stability of Urban Infrastructure in Russian Permafrost Regions...' was authored by Nikolay I Shiklomanov, Dmitry A Streletskiy, Timothy B Swales (all affiliated to The George Washington University), and Vasily A Kokorev, affiliated to the State Hydrological Institute, St Petersburg.  D A Streletskiy is also affiliated to the Earth Cryosphere Institute, Tyumen, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and N I Shiklomanov is also affiliated to the Tyumen State Oil and Gas University, Tyumen. 

The study was published in the Geographical Review, journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, 4 October 2016.

'In Norilsk the critical climate-induced decrease in bearing capacity is expected around (the) 2040s.' Pictures: The Siberian Times

Norilsk view from the top

Bus on the city square

View on industrial part of the city

Comments (9)

By 2050 I expect the coastline of my city will be under a couple feet of water. It's a changing world we're facing. I pray that my grandchildren and yours will be able to adapt to the world we've created. I would love to see the result just out of professional curiosity and at 71, I just may live long enough to see some changes.

Good luck to us all.
Stan Chrzanowski, P.E. (Retired), Naples, Florida, USA
12/06/2018 21:35
The nothing new.. It has always been espoused that buildings constructed on permafrost were unstable.... Has this been forgotten...
Lucas Anderson, Australia
03/12/2017 15:46
we have more than building collapses to worry about. Human extinction on its way. We have absolutely ransacked the planet and now that melting permaforst is going to fart out gigatons of methane and extra carbon. Dramatic planetary changes we didnt evolve to deal with up ahead
davy, prague
24/03/2017 23:24
The same thing is happening in Alaska. Only we don't have such lovely cities. I think I would like to move to Russia Siberia wondering if that's possible?
Phyllis, Juneau Alaska
21/03/2017 16:48
Your cities are quite colorful, well done. Certainly brighten your world .. We in australia tend to have lost all imagination in architecture..
It is sad to imagine all sinking into the mud as the ground disolves.. On this leg of our orbit round the sun we have another 2 to 4 thousand years before we begin to drift away again.. and so the cycles continue..
norm matchett, cairns australia
21/01/2017 17:40
We are told that a mini ice age is approaching so that should put a stop to building collapses! Sun spot activity is zero, The Thames froze and fairs where held upon it last time this happened. Samuel Pepys wrote about this in his diaries. Al Gore should be put up against a wall!
Christopher Jones, Brisbane Australia
12/01/2017 14:05
Now they're figuring this out? I've read about this from a book published in the 1970s. THis book stated that because houses were built on the perma frost ground they tended to sink after a while and so when the building sank they would build another floor on top because of the perma frost thawing when a building is on it.... hmmm
Guest, Austria
04/01/2017 00:56
Your reporting & publication fills a critical global need, thank you!!!
Peter Malsin, Hanover New Hampshire USA
02/01/2017 22:41
so the ground moves in Siberia…..?
Shaky , Mexico
01/01/2017 19:57

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