How thawing permafrost is destroying Russian homes

What was once an old airport runway in the Siberian village of Churapcha, is now a useless swampy field.

Thawing permafrost is to blame.

From buildings and roads to pipelines and storage facilities – countless structures built atop northern Russia’s permafrost are collapsing…

as the earth heats up and the ice beneath their foundations melts.

The personal impact on residents is clear…

UPSOT: " We have everything flowing here under the house. We have the permafrost here, so the house goes up and down."

And the costs keep on mounting. According to Yakutsk's Melnikov Permafrost Institute, Russia could face $97 billion in infrastructure damages by 2050, if the rate of warming continues.


"Unfortunately, these kinds of problems are being observed everywhere. There isn't a single settlement in Russia's Arctic where you wouldn't find a destroyed or deformed building."

Alexei Maslakob is a permafrost scientist at Moscow State University.

He explained that when the Russian Arctic was developed in the 1960 and 70s, construction regulations did not take into account the changing natural environment

"Buildings stand on stilts and are held together by the freezing force of the permafrost with the stilts in its foundation. The engineers, when they created these buildings calculated the number of stilts and their depth in relation to a certain permafrost temperature. // It was implied that permafrost temperatures were always stable, and they did not change. Only a few decades later, it became clear that the permafrost temperature was as much a changing factor as the air temperature."

The 10,000-population town of Churapcha saw its airport close in the 1990s.

Over the years, the once-smooth runway has been replaced by a mottled field as the ground sinks.

Researchers say that eventually, the area will become a lake…

and found that some parts of the town are already sinking by as much as 12 cms per year.

With permafrost covering 65% of Russia's landmass.

there are more than 15 million people living on permafrost foundations across the country.

A study found that 72% of people surveyed in eight settlements in central Yakutia reported problems with the subsidence of their homes' foundations.

Residents like Egor Dyachkovsky.

“In the five years since we built our home here, the ground has sunk below it. At first, the home was raised 30 centimeters off the ground on its stilt foundations. The gap is now a full meter.”

Russia is investing to better monitor the subterranean thaw.

But ecology Minister Alexander Kozlov said in August that "we don't know what's actually happening to it," and that the ministry plans to deploy 140 monitoring stations to understand what is melting and how to prevent accidents.

But for many like Dyachkovsy, it’s too little too late.

The five truckloads of soil he’s used to try and fill the gap between the ground and his home are not enough.

It’s a costly problem to fix.

But there’s a wider global impact to consider too.

Russia warms 2.8 times faster than the global average, and so the melting of Siberia's long-frozen tundra is releasing greenhouse gases …

that scientists fear could frustrate global efforts to curb climate-warming emissions.