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Father and son’s Ice Age plot to slow Siberian thaw

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In one of the coldest places on the planet, 130 km south of Russia’s arctic coast, scientist Sergey Zimov finds no sign of permafrost as global warming permeates the soil of Siberia.

As everything from mammoth bones to ancient vegetation frozen inside for millennia thaws and decomposes, it now threatens to release vast amounts of greenhouse gases.

Zimov, who has studied permafrost from his science base in the diamond-producing region of Yakutia for decades, sees the effects of climate change in real time.

An abandoned ship is seen near the Northeast Science Station

(Reuters)

Sergey checks the materials stored underground in the permafrost

(Reuters)

Driving a thin metal pole a few feet into the Siberian turf, where temperatures rise to more than three times the world average, with barely any force, the 66-year-old is neutral.

“It’s one of the coldest places on the planet and there is no permafrost,” he says. “Methane has never increased in the atmosphere at the rate it is today … I think it has to do with our permafrost.”

Permafrost covers 65 percent of Russia’s landmass and about a quarter of the northern landmass. Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its thawing could eventually match or even exceed industrial emissions from the European Union due to the sheer volume of decaying organic matter.

Meanwhile, permafrost emissions, which are considered to be naturally occurring, are not counted in government commitments to reduce emissions or in the spotlight during UN climate talks. Zimov, with his white beard and cigarette, ignored orders to leave the Arctic when the Soviet Union collapsed and instead found funds to keep the Northeast Science Station near the city in operation in abandoned part of Chersky.

Citing data from a network of global monitoring stations run by the United States, Zimov says he now believes the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that permafrost has started releasing greenhouse gases.

A house located on land deformed by thawing permafrost

(Reuters)

An industrial building that was destroyed when the permafrost thawed under its foundations

(Reuters)

Maria Nedostupenko looks out the window at her house which has been damaged by permafrost under its foundations

(Reuters)

Despite the reduction in factory activity around the world during the pandemic, which also significantly slowed global transport, Zimov said the concentration of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased at a faster rate. .

Entire cities rest on permafrost, and its thaw could cost Russia 7 trillion rubles (£ 750 million) in damage by 2050 if the pace of warming continues, scientists say.

Built on the assumption that the permafrost would never melt, many homes, pipelines and roads in the far north and east of Russia are now sinking and in increasing need of repair.

Ice Age Animals

Zimov wants to slow the thaw in a region of Yakutia by populating a nature reserve called the Pleistocene Park with large herbivores, including bison, horses and camels.

Sergey tries to take a photo of a camel

(Reuters)

Horses graze in the Pleistocene park

(Reuters)

Such animals trample on the snow, making it much more compact so that the winter cold can penetrate all the way to the ground, rather than acting as a thick insulating blanket.

Zimov and his son Nikita started introducing animals to the fenced park in 1996 and have so far moved around 200 different species, which they say make the permafrost cooler compared to other areas.

Bison were trucked in and shipped this summer from Denmark, along the northern sea route, past polar bears and walruses, and through weeks-long storms, before their ship finally headed for the mouth of the Kolyma River to their new home some 6,000 kilometers east.

The Zimov’s surreal plan for geoengineering a cooler future has extended to providing a home for mammoths, which other scientists hope to resurrect from extinction with genetic techniques, in order to ‘mimic the region’s ecosystem during the last ice age that ended 11,700 years ago. .

Nikolay Basharin, a scientist, holds a bull’s skull in an underground permafrost laboratory

(Reuters)

Trees tilt precariously at Duvanny Yar

(Reuters)

An article published in Nature’s Scientific reports last year, where the two Zimovs were listed as authors, showed that the animals of the Pleistocene park had halved the average snow depth and the average annual ground temperature of 1.9 ° C, with a even more significant decline in winter and spring.

Further work is needed to determine whether such “unconventional” methods could be an effective climate change mitigation strategy, but the density of animals in the Pleistocene park – 114 per square kilometer – is expected to be achievable in the panarctic scale, he said.

And models around the world suggest that the introduction of large herbivores into the tundra could prevent 37% of arctic permafrost from thawing, the newspaper said.

Permathaw?

Nikita was walking in the shallows of the Kolyma River in Duvanny Yar in September when he caught a mammoth tusk and tooth. Such finds have been common for years in Yakutia and especially near rivers where water erodes permafrost.

Three hours by boat from Chersky, the river bank offers a cross section of the thaw, with a thick layer of exposed ice melting and dripping under layers of dense black earth containing small grass roots.

Nikita Zimov, the director of the Pleistocene park, holds a piece of mammoth tusk

(Reuters)

A bone is seen on the bank of the Kolyma river

(Reuters)

“If you take the weight of all those roots and decaying organic matter in the permafrost of Yakutia alone, you will find that the weight is greater than the terrestrial biomass of the planet,” says Nikita.

Scientists say that on average the world has warmed by one degree over the past century, while in Yakutia over the past 50 years the temperature has risen by three degrees.

Elder Zimov says he has seen for himself how winters have become shorter and milder, while Alexander Fedorov, deputy director of the Melnikov Permafrost Institute in Yakutsk, says he did more to wear fur clothing during the colder months.

But tackling permafrost emissions, like fires and other so-called natural emissions, presents a challenge because they are not fully accounted for in climate models or international agreements, scientists say.

“The difficulty is the quantity,” says Chris Burn, professor at Carleton University in Canada and president of the International Permafrost Association. “One or two percent of the carbon in permafrost is the total global emissions for a year.”

Scientists estimate that the permafrost in the northern hemisphere contains about 1.5 trillion tonnes of carbon, about twice as much as in the atmosphere today, or about three times as much as in all the trees and plants on Earth.

Nikita says there is no one-size-fits-all solution to global warming. “We are working to prove that these ecosystems will help in the fight, but, of course, our efforts alone are not enough.”

Photography by Maxim Shemetov, Reuters