Russia’s Arctic coastline is losing 7,000 hectares per year to climate change

Thawing permafrost causes coastline erosion at the Kolguyev island in the eastern Barents Sea. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

A new study conducted at the Moscow State University confirms that the Arctic permafrost along the country’s northern coastline is thawing at terrifying speeds.

The Russian State Commission for the Development of the Arctic has pointed to a new study which estimates that approximately 7,000 hectares of land are washed out to the sea annually, as the ice melts or is washed out into the sea.

The study was conducted by a group of scientists specializing in climatic change at the Moscow State University and was first reported by the analytic news site Akcent.

The head of the Laboratory of Geoecology of the North, Stanislav Ogorodov, commented on the concerning trend caused by climate change.

Ogorodov, who specializes in the field of marine geomorphology and polar geoecology, points to the fact that the amount of arctic coastline that is estimated to be lost on a yearly basis consists of about 70 sq. kilometers, which is comparable to the area of Moscow’s Central District. The once-frozen cliffsides to the Arctic Ocean in the Russian Arctic are quickly diminishing, leaving behind bare shallows and narrow beaches.

Less sea ice for longer parts of the year causes more and bigger waves, bringing a double negative erosion effect to the coastlines with thawing permafrost.

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions has led to a rise in temperatures around the globe. However, the poles are the most sensitive regions to this rapid increase in temperature.

Currently, the Arctic is warming three times faster than any other area on Earth, as recently pointed out in the Arctic Report Card 2021.

The increase in global temperatures causes glaciers and sea ice to break off and melt, thereby causing sea levels to rise. A perpetual cycle of continuous melting in the Arctic is then set in motion: the higher (and warmer) sea levels further warm up the Arctic’s icy shores and cause even more polar ice to melt and permafrost to thaw.

Infrastructures along the coast of northern Siberia are at risk, like here in Dikson, the northernmost town on mainland Russia. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The Arctic shore thawing is not a revelation: Soviet scientists have been aware of this terrifying trend since the 1960s. However, what adds to the crisis is that the rate at which the Arctic melts has increased substantially in recent years. For example, the coast of Kolguyev island, located in the south-eastern Barents Sea, is receding at a rate of 2 meters per year. This rate seems immense, however, it is derisory in comparison to the 15-20 meters lost annually of the glacial coast in certain areas in Eastern Siberia.

The 7,000 hectares of coastal land that are destroyed each year have serious negative effects on infrastructure. As previously reported by the Barents Observer, construction of Indiga’ seaport in Nenets Autonomous Okrug was, earlier this year, postponed due to changing conditions caused by permafrost thaw, ice melts and more difficult weather conditions. Thawing permafrost changes the depth of the port and requires new construction methods.

Melting glaciers and rising sea levels increase storm surges as a warmer ocean and air temperatures often create more intense and frequent coastal storms. The frequency of natural disasters, not only in the Arctic but also in the rest of the world, is expected to increase as the Arctic melts.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Blog: Business as usual for fossil fuels as polar ice melt bodes more climate chaos in 2022, Irene Quaile

Finland: Temperatures headed toward -40C in Finnish Lapland, Yle News

Greenland: Arctic Report Card 2021 – Sea ice changes, rain on Greenland ice sheet among dramatic changes in North, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Blog: Radical Arctic warming – rain, rain, here to stay?, Marc Lanteigne

Russia WMO confirms 38 C Arctic temperature record in Russia, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: January temperatures about 10°C above normal in parts of northern Sweden, says weather service, Radio Sweden

Polina Leganger Bronder, The Independent Barents Observer

Polina Leganger Bronder is currently studying International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science with a specific interest in policy development and analysis. Coming from a multicultural background she has always been interested in world politics and has been involved in various publication projects since 2018.

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