Climate change threatens Arctic infrastructure by 2050

Theme 2. Connectivity
Session Name 2.11 Transport, infrastructure, communication - local, regional and global scales
Presentation Type Oral
Author(s) Jan Hjort (University of Oulu, Finland), Olli Karjalainen (University of Oulu, Finland), Juha Aalto (University of Helsinki, Finland), Vladimir Romanovsky (University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA), Miska Luoto (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Abstract text

Arctic permafrost environments are undergoing unprecedented changes. In addition to the potential adverse effects on global climate and ecosystems, degradation of permafrost may damage fundamental infrastructure. This could jeopardize the sustainable development of Arctic communities, and the utilization of natural resources. In this study, we (i) mapped infrastructure hazard areas in the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost regions under projected climatic changes and (ii) quantified critical engineering structures at risk by 2050. We used observations of ground thermal regime, geospatial environmental data, and statistically-based ensemble methodologies to model the current and future permafrost conditions at ∼1 km resolution. Using the forecasts of ground thermal regime, a consensus of three geohazard indices, and GIS-based infrastructure data we identified infrastructure hazard areas at unprecedentedly high spatial resolution and quantified infrastructure elements at risk owing to climate change. We show that more than two-third of current infrastructure in the permafrost domain are in areas with high potential for thaw of near-surface permafrost. More importantly, one-third of pan-Arctic infrastructure and nearly half of the hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic are in high-hazard regions. To successfully manage climate change impacts in the Arctic, a better understanding is needed about which elements of the infrastructure are likely to be affected by permafrost degradation and where these are located. Such hazard assessments for existing and future infrastructure are essential to support sustainable development in the Arctic.

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