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Climate warming and permafrost thaw in the Russian Arctic: potential economic impacts on public infrastructure by 2050


This is an attempt to predict the potential economic impacts on public infrastructure upon degrading permafrost which is losing its bearing capacity. Climate change-related increases in costs (economic losses or damage) are estimated for several climate futures by 2050 separately for 39 municipalities located in the Russian Arctic permafrost domain. The hypothetical changes in mean annual ground temperature are inferred from air and ground temperature trends and monitoring data, with reference to forecasts of the Climate Center of the Russian Meteorological Service (Roshydromet) and climate change scenarios (representative concentration pathways RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5). The calculations were performed for twelve possible cases with different air ground temperature assumptions, with regard to the difference between the ground and air mean annual temperatures. This difference, or temperature shifts, due to radiation, snow, vegetation, and atmospheric precipitation effects, was estimated either by means of calculations proceeding from possible changes of climate variables or by summation of known values reported from different Arctic areas. The economic losses were evaluated as maximum and minimum values at extreme values of permafrost parameters, separately for each case. The buildings and facilities on permafrost were assumed to have pile foundations with friction piles. The permafrost thaw impact was meant as the loss of the soil capacity to bear the support structures for the infrastructure leading to deformation and failure. The impact was considered significant if the change exceeded the safety margin according to the Russian Building Code. The greatest damage is expected to housing stock and buildings and structures of main economic sectors. The monetary value of the residential infrastructure was estimated using a specially compiled inventory database including address, age, and surface area of 23.900 houses in 39 selected Russian Arctic municipalities over a total area of 44.600 km2. The estimation of fixed assets stemmed from the assumption that their monetary value is proportional to the gross output in the respective economic sector, which, in its turn, correlates with the payroll total corrected for mean industry coefficients for different regions of Russia. The potential damage may reach up to US$ 132 billion (total) and ~ US$ 15 billion for residential infrastructure alone, which generally agrees with other estimates.

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  1. The costs were originally calculated in Russian roubles in the prices of 2020 and then converted to US dollars at an US$/RUB exchange rate of 72.55, which is a mean annual value for 2020 as reported by the Russian Central Bank.

  2. Decree N 459 of 22.08.2012 Methodological Guidelines for Real Estate Valuation, According to the National Economic Accounting System, by the Federal State Statistic Service.

  3. Russian Ruble and US Dollar conversion bases on the average annual data of the Central Bank of Russia exchange rate for 12 months of 2020 (1 US dollar—72.55 rubles).


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Melnikov, V.P., Osipov, V.I., Brouchkov, A.V. et al. Climate warming and permafrost thaw in the Russian Arctic: potential economic impacts on public infrastructure by 2050. Nat Hazards 112, 231–251 (2022).

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  • Climate warming
  • Permafrost
  • Thaw
  • Damage
  • Residential and industrial infrastructure
  • Bearing capacity
  • Russian Arctic