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The city of Norilsk represents an unprecedented case of massive construction in the permafrost regions of the Arctic. Norilsk's urban expansion can be attributed to the development of engineering practices that maintained the thermal stability of permafrost. However, complex interactions between the urban landscape and permafrost have resulted in permafrost warming and degradation. Negative cryogenic processes started to manifest themselves 10–15 years after the initial development and have intensified with time. Problems were further exacerbated by the poor quality of construction, improper operation of the city infrastructure, socioeconomic transitions, and unanticipated climatic changes. The warming and degradation of permafrost have contributed to a widespread deformation of structures in Norilsk. In this paper, we discuss the role of permafrost in the urban development of Norilsk, specific human-and climate-induced geotechnical problems related to permafrost, and innovative economically viable solutions to maintain city infrastructure. The analysis of Norilsk's experiences with permafrost can potentially contribute to the development of sustainable practices for Arctic urbanization.
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Conquering the permafrost: urban infrastructure
development in Norilsk, Russia
Nikolay I. Shiklomanov, Dmitry A. Streletskiy, Valery I. Grebenets & Luis
To cite this article: Nikolay I. Shiklomanov, Dmitry A. Streletskiy, Valery I. Grebenets & Luis Suter
(2017): Conquering the permafrost: urban infrastructure development in Norilsk, Russia, Polar
Geography, DOI: 10.1080/1088937X.2017.1329237
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Conquering the permafrost: urban infrastructure
development in Norilsk, Russia
Nikolay I. Shiklomanov
, Dmitry A. Streletskiy
, Valery I. Grebenets
and Luis Suter
Department of Geography, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA;
Department of
Geography, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia;
State Hydrological Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia
The city of Norilsk represents an unprecedented case of massive
construction in the permafrost regions of the Arctic. Norilsks
urban expansion can be attributed to the development of
engineering practices that maintained the thermal stability of
permafrost. However, complex interactions between the urban
landscape and permafrost have resulted in permafrost warming
and degradation. Negative cryogenic processes started to
manifest themselves 1015 years after the initial development
and have intensified with time. Problems were further
exacerbated by the poor quality of construction, improper
operation of the city infrastructure, socio-economic transitions,
and unanticipated climatic changes. The warming and
degradation of permafrost have contributed to a widespread
deformation of structures in Norilsk. In this paper, we discuss the
role of permafrost in the urban development of Norilsk, specific
human- and climate-induced geotechnical problems related to
permafrost, and innovative economically viable solutions to
maintain city infrastructure. The analysis of Norilsks experiences
with permafrost can potentially contribute to the development of
sustainable practices for Arctic urbanization.
Received 11 November 2016
Accepted 26 March 2017
Norilsk; permafrost; history of
development; Arctic cities
Over 66% of Russia is underlined by perennially frozen ground or permafrost. Defined as
a ground which remains at temperature below 0°C for at least two consecutive years, per-
mafrost affects all hydrologic, geomorphic, and biologic processes in the Arctic and plays
an important role in the global climate system (e.g. Rowland et al., 2010). It also impacts
human activities in northern regions. Changes in the ground thermal regime can greatly
reduce permafrosts capacity to carry structural loads imposed by buildings and structures
(e.g. Streletskiy, Shiklomanov, & Grebenets, 2012; Streletskiy, Shiklomanov, & Nelson,
2012a). The thawing of ice-rich sediments leads to ground subsidence and often results
in uneven surface deformation and formation of thermokarst terrain undermining the
stability of engineered structures (e.g. Nelson, Anisimov, & Shiklomanov, 2001). Even a
slight anthropogenic disturbance can greatly modify energy and water fluxes at the
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Nikolay I. Shiklomanov Department of Geography, The George Washington Uni-
versity, Washington, DC 20052, USA
ground surface, promoting significant alteration to physical and thermal properties of the
frozen ground. As a result, permafrost warming and degradation can develop in response
to human activity even under stable climatic conditions. The sensitive nature of perma-
frost constitutes a distinctive, highly challenging suit of engineering problems. Many
applications of construction methods and technologies developed for temperate climates
are generally restricted in permafrost-affected regions (e.g. Shur & Goering, 2009).
An evolution of methods for permafrost construction over the twentieth century has
permitted substantial expansion of economic activities in the Russian Arctic. It also
allowed for the establishment and/or extensive development of urban communities
throughout the Russian permafrost regions to support local and regional administrations,
military installations, and mineral resources extraction and transportation industries.
The permafrost-related urban development in the Russian Arctic is exemplified by the
city of Norilsk (pop 178,800): the largest Arctic city built on permafrost. The city of
Norilsk is located in Central Siberia at 69°51N latitude and 88°13E longitude, approxi-
mately 90 km east of Yenisei River. Norilsk is a highly isolated city. It is not connected
to the Russian road or railroad system. The region is characterized by severe subarctic
climate and by Siberian forest-tundra/tundra biomes underlined by the permafrost of vari-
able (20400 m) thickness. The permafrost is continuous in its extent with the exception
of major water bodies. The mean annual ground temperature varies within a 7°C to
0.5°C range, depending on surface and subsurface conditions (Ershov, 1989). Norilsk
was founded in 1935 as a GULAG mining and metallurgy work camp and experienced
intensive urban development between the mid-1950s and early 1990s period. Although
several Russian cities were established in permafrost-affected regions as early as seven-
teenth century (e.g. Yakutsk), it was the widespread proliferation of permafrost engineer-
ing and construction methods developed in Norilsk, which contributed to a more rapid
urbanization of the Russian Arctic. Correspondingly, the emergence and intensification
of the negative permafrost-related geotechnical processes manifested by the structural
deformations of Norilsk buildings epitomize problems currently faced by many Russian
Arctic communities.
In this paper, we discuss the role of permafrost in the urban development of Norilsk,
specific human- and climate-induced geotechnical problems related to permafrost, and
innovative economically viable solutions to maintain city infrastructure.
History of permafrost construction in Norilsk
Mid-1930s to mid-1940s
Construction of the Norilsk industrial complex began during the summer of 1935 utilizing
predominantly forced labor (e.g. Ertz, 2003). The extensive geologic and geocryologic (or
permafrost) investigations initiated in 1936 within the area of proposed development indi-
cated the presence of permafrost-affected sediments with massive ground ice (Leonev,
1944; Pavlov, 1959). Initial experience with permafrost construction indicated that the
ice-rich permafrost is unable to support heat-generating structures built using standard
engineering practices (e.g. Shamsura, 1959). Structures erected during the 19351937
period developed deformations caused by the differential settlement of the thawing ice-
rich sediments just a few years after construction. As a result, permafrost construction
regulations issued in 1939 have explicitly prohibited the building of permanent concrete
and/or brick structures on frozen sediments with any detectible amounts of ground ice
(OCT, 1939). To avoid ice-rich permafrost, it was proposed to use concrete pylons
anchored to the bedrock located at reachable depthas a foundation for heavy, heat-gen-
erating industrial structures (Kim, 1959). The lack of large areas underlined by the near-
surface bedrock has promoted significant changes to the development plan, which orig-
inally assumed consolidated cluster of smelters and supporting facilities located in close
proximity to mines. Instead, massive industrial structures were built on relatively small
patches underlined by the bedrock at 810 m depth and arranged in a narrow strip extend-
ing from east to west for over 20 km (Pavlov, 1962)(Figure 1(a)).
Since areas with the near-surface bedrock were used primarily for industrial facilities,
the majority of the 1930s1940s supplemental structures, such as administrative buildings
and housing (predominantly prison barracks), consisted of temporary, light one- to two-
story wooden structures which were less susceptible to the differential settlement (Pavlov,
Figure 1. (a) Norilsk Industrial region. Note the spatial arrangement of industrial facilities attributable
to distribution of near-surface bedrock. (b) The map of the city of Norilsk and approximate periods of
development. Note the large number of thermokarst lakes indicative of ice-rich permafrost in the
north-east corner of the map and the location of Layreatov st, mentioned in the text. (c) Neoclassical
buildings characteristic of 19461957 period. (d) Typical five-story concrete panel residential buildings
of 19571975. (e) Typical nine-story concrete residential buildings of 19751995. (f) Typical 32 × 32 cm
concrete foundation piles (Photographs by N.I. Shiklomanov).
1959). However, by the mid-1940s, approximately 50 one- to two-story brick houses and
several small industrial facilities were built on coarse, relatively ice-poor sediments using
construction principles of preserving underlying permafrost from thawing. These build-
ings utilized the combination of elevated wooden pile foundations, ventilated basements,
and perimeter insulation of load-bearing walls and floor (Kim & Pavlov, 1945).
Mid-1940s to mid-1950s
Although construction of industrial facilities was a priority in the 19301940s, plans for
building a fully functioning city for approximately 35 thousand people were developed
from 1939 to 1943. According to these plans, the city would include 35-story neoclassical
brick buildings arranged in 710 rectangular city blocks each ranging from 1.5 to 4 hec-
tares in size (Nepokojcheskij, 1946)(Figure 1(b) and (c)). The area allocated for urban
development was underlined by the bedrock at 0.510 m depth overplayed by gravel,
boulders, and sandy-loam deposits of glacial origin. The permafrost layer varied
between 80 m and 150 m in thickness and had the mean annual temperature of С
to С(Anisimov & Ermilov, 1961). Construction began in the late 1940s and involved
manual excavation of the frozen sedimentary material, and raising typical heated base-
ments on the bedrock. In areas with the thick sedimentary layer (>10 m), foundations
were not continuous but consisted of several 2 × 2 m concrete pylons anchored to the
bedrock, serving as a base for horizontal beams supporting buildings (Kim, 1961).
Despite a solid bedrock foundation, permafrost-related problems arose immediately
after construction. Taliks (the volumes of thawed soil) formed around heated basements
and promoted water accumulation, causing regular flooding of basements. As a mitigation
measure, a complex drainage system had to be retrofitted around each building (Nazarova
& Poluektov, 1973). Significant problems were related to the underground utility lines such
as water, sewer, and centralized (hot water) heating. The unavoidable permafrost thawing
around utility lines caused deformation, corrosion, and rupture of pipes, leaving many
multi-story buildings, especially those located inside the perimeter of city blocks, without
sewer or running water for years (Anisimov & Ermilov, 1961). Based on this initial experi-
ence, three guiding principles of city planning on permafrost were developed (Orlov, 1962):
(1) To minimize the negative effects of permafrost thawing, all utility lines should be
placed in a single underground collector (utilidors) running along the center of
streets at least 1012 m away from buildings.
(2) To minimize the density of utility lines, buildings should be as large as possible and
have a clear access to streets with utilidors.
(3) The use of unheated, ventilated basements is preferable all for buildings.
All Norilsk city blocks developed after 1950 have utilized these principles (Nepokoj-
cheskij, 1962).
Mid-1950s to early 2000s
The dismantling of the GULAG system in the mid-1950s resulted in a labor shortage in
Norilsk. Quality housing was needed to attract mine and factory workers, making
construction of residential housing a priority. Classical architectural designs used in the
late 1940s to early 1950s (Figure 1(c)) were too time-consuming and labor-intensive to
implement, and thus were substituted by the simplified, standardized brick buildings.
This greatly increased the speed of construction. In 1956, approximately 38,000 m
of resi-
dential housing was built, which was twice the amount built in 1955 (Kim, 1964). The
completion of the factory producing prefabricated concrete modules for residential build-
ings in 1957 accelerated the construction process further (Agafonov, 1966). The minimum
height of structures within the city limits was set to five stories (Nazarova & Poluektov,
By the late 1950s, all land suitable for construction was exhausted. City development
spread to the areas underlined by the ice-rich, fine-grained lacustrine sediments at
mean annual temperature above Сand with widespread 0.1-m-thick ice lenses
(Kim, 1961). The analysis showed that these sediments could consolidate by as much as
30% after thawing and were prone to significant deformations (Zhukov, 1961). The
bedrock, traditionally used in Norilsk to anchor foundations, was dipping below 30 m
depth (Golodkovskaya & Shaumjan, 1974). While experiments with construction on
frozen sediments were continued since the 1940s, no adequate solution was found. In
the early 1950s, several residential buildings were erected on coarse frozen sediments
using posts anchored to a thick concrete pad laid three meters below the active layer.
However, this method of construction was extremely slow and labor-intensive. It required
an excavation of substantial volume of the frozen ground to lay the pad. Moreover, exca-
vation was possible only during the winter to prevent permafrost thawing, inflow of water,
and collapse of the construction pit (Kolyada et al., 1978). V. Kim proposed a more effec-
tive method of permafrost construction in 1956.
Kims foundation consisted of several rows of 816 m reinforced concrete piles frozen
into the permafrost and a set of concrete beams (grillage) laid on top of the foundation
piles at 1.21.8 m height above the ground. Such foundation relied on temperature-depen-
dent freezing bond between piles and permafrost to support the structural load of the
building. As such, pile foundation required maintaining the thermal regime of the perma-
frost throughout the lifespan of the structure. This was achieved by grillage elevation,
which effectively used free ventilation to decouple the heat generated by the structure
from the permafrost-affected ground. All utility lines were suspended from the grillage
or the floor (Kim, 1961).
The first five-story concrete panel buildings on piles-and-grillage foundations were
constructed in Norilsk in 1957 on relatively warm (0.5 to 1.5°Сmean annual tempera-
ture) ice-rich sediments. The construction involved placing prefabricated 32 × 32 cm 8
16 m-long reinforced concrete piles (Figure 1(f)) into the mud-filled predrilled holes of
slightly larger diameter than the pile. The mud was forced out during the lowering the
pile effectively filling all cavities in the hole. After freezing, the mud provided a strong
bond between the pile and the permafrost. This method of construction was three
times faster, required 610 times less labor, and was half the cost of the post-on-pad
and pillars-on-bedrock foundations, which were previously used in Norilsk (Kim,
1961). Instrumental monitoring of the first buildings on pile foundations has confirmed
the applicability of this method to relatively warm, ice-rich permafrost. In particular, effec-
tive ventilation of crawl spaces, absence of snow, and shading of the ground under the
building have contributed to the permafrost temperature decrease and an increased
capacity of the frozen ground to support structures (Kim, 1964).
From 1959 onwards, the pile foundation became the dominant method of permafrost
construction in Norilsk. However, maintaining the thermal regime of the ice-rich frozen
sediments in densely built-up area was a major engineering challenge. Significant difficul-
ties were associated with the optimum design of roads and heat-generating utility lines
(e.g. water, sewer, centralized heating). To protect the permafrost, all city streets were con-
structed on 1.52.0-m-thick gravel pads laid directly on the undisturbed natural vegetation
cover (Anisimov & Ermilov, 1961). Within the residential area, all utility lines were placed
inside the two-level ventilated concrete underground utilidors built along the center of
wide streets. To minimize the number of utility entry points, the majority of buildings con-
stituting a single city block were connected to allow the distribution of pipes between the
structures in either ventilated crawl spaces or inside buildings (Porhaev et al., 1978).
Almost all residential buildings as well as several streets and utilidors were equipped
with thermometric boreholes for permafrost temperature monitoring.
The results of extensive ground temperature observations have indicated that the
implementation of new engineering designs has resulted in a decrease of the permafrost
temperature under buildings by 3Сwithin 35 years after construction (e.g. Kim,
1964; Kolyada, Anisimov, Poluektov, & Zavenyagin, 1978; Maksimov, Zanjatin, & Kono-
valov, 1978). Although permafrost thawing was observed under utilidors (e.g. Orlov, 1962;
Pchelkin, 1959a; Vershinin, 1963), taliks did not extend to nearby structures due to an
enhanced winter freezing beneath plowed streets (Ahbulatov, 1961). It was concluded
that the relatively constant, spatially uniform permafrost temperature of 3toС
could be maintained within each city block. As a result, in the late 1960s, it was widely
proclaimed that The Permafrost is Conqueredin Norilsk (e.g. Cheshkova, 1970).
New, quick, relatively cheap, and reliable methods of permafrost construction contrib-
uted to the accelerated rate of development in Norilsk. During the 19601990 period,
approximately 1820 new residential buildings were erected per year. The majority of
1960s structures consisted of five-story concrete panel buildings (Figure 1(d)). During
the 1970s1990s, the height of buildings increased to 912 stories (Figure 1(e)). In
1989, the population of Norilsk reached 179,757 people. Two additional cities were devel-
oped in proximity to Norilsk in the 1960s1980s: Talnakh (1989 population 65,710); and
Kaerkan (1989 population 29,824) (
making the Norilsk industrial complex the largest Arctic metropolis on permafrost.
Permafrost warming and degradation
Although permafrost assessments in the 1960s1970s indicated the stability of the ground
thermal regime, progressive widespread permafrost warming in the city became apparent
by the end of the 1980s. Permafrost degradation was observed under 39 residential build-
ings in 1989, 145 buildings in 1995, and 393 buildings in 2000 (Uhova, Grebenets, &
Kerimov, 2007). Analysis of temperature measurements obtained in 2006 from the
sample of 48 residential buildings in the different parts of the city detected progressive per-
mafrost degradation in 70% of cases (Grebenets, Streletskiy, & Shiklomanov, 2012).
The major permafrost-related infrastructure problems in Norilsk first occurred in the
mid-1980s when 15 nine-story residential buildings constructed on the eastern side of
Layreatov street (Figure 1(b)) between 1974 and 1979 developed significant deformations,
and had to be demolished (Gunina, 2013). By the early 1990s, an additional 17 houses in
different parts of the city were demolished due to deformations attributable to permafrost
thawing. Between 1995 and 1999, residents were moved out of 49 multi-story buildings
while another 79 occupied buildings were identified as structures with progressive defor-
mations.This accounted for approximately 10% of buildings in Norilsk (Kronik, 2001).
Permafrost changes in urban environment
Based on the literature review and field investigations, we have identified four major
factors responsible for the pronounced permafrost changes in Norilsk and corresponding
degradation of the urban infrastructure (Figure 2). These include: (1) complexity of the
interactions between different components of the urban infrastructure and the permafrost;
(2) quality of construction and improper operation of the urban infrastructure; (3)
problem associated with the socio-economic transitions; and (4) climate-induced environ-
mental change. Each of these factors is discussed below.
Complexity of the urban permafrost system
Extensive work was conducted in Norilsk to develop an optimum method of urban per-
mafrost construction, including experimental field-testing aimed at the analysis of poten-
tial impacts exerted by individual elements of the urban infrastructure on the permafrost
(e.g. Maksimov, 1959; Pavlov, 1962). However, the complex interactions between different
components of the urban landscape and their combined effects on the ground thermal
regime were never fully considered.
For example, theoretical considerations and experimental testing have suggested that
the coarse sediments are preferable for the cold climate construction since they inhibit
ice segregation and surface heave (e.g. Maksimov, 1959; Pavlov, 1950). As a result, 80%
of the Norilsk built-up area is situated on the artificial surfaces composed of coarse
material derived from the mine tailings and used for roadbeds and leveling of construction
sites (Demedyk, 1972). Simultaneously, storm drainage systems were never considered for
Figure 2. (a) Example of structural deformation of building caused by inadequate structural design
exacerbated by permafrost warming. (b) Example of cryogenic weathering of the foundation. (c)
Water leakage and accumulation around foundation piles. (d) Ground settlement developed under
small heated kiosk due to permafrost degradation (Photographs by V.I. Grebenets and N.I.
Norilsk due to the cold and arid Arctic climate (e.g. Nepokojcheskij, 1962; Pchelkin,
1959b). The combination of these two factors has produced an unanticipated effect on
the urban permafrost. Despite low precipitations, substantial surface and subsurface
runoff forms annually from melting snow piles accumulated in the city, due to altered
wind patterns and plowing. High permeability of coarse material led to high infiltration,
unrestricted movement, and subsurface accumulation of water in depressions formed by
foundation piles, which, in turn, enhanced permafrost warming. Warming influence of the
city-generated runoff initially affected buildings erected in the topographically lowest parts
of the city (e.g. Layreatov street) (Poluektov, Mezhenskij, & Rumjancev, 1981); however,
with time, water-related permafrost warming became apparent through the city (Grebe-
nets & Kerimov, 2001).
Significant problems were related to the complexity of thermal interactions between the
permafrost, underground utilidors, and city buildings. By the mid-1980s, permafrost
degraded to a 20 m depth under utility lines and the thaw had spread horizontally far
beyond the streets in many parts of Norilsk (Grebenetz, 1998; Protasova, 1987). An
expanding net of taliks dissected the continuous layer of frozen ground, causing perma-
frost warming and thawing under city blocks. Moreover, ground freezing under the
pipes in abnormally cold winters promoted the ice segregation and frost heave followed
by thaw subsidence. Such differential vertical movements contributed to frequent
rupture of pipes and water leakages. The coarse sediments complicated the detection of
leakage from aging utility pipes due to high infiltration, and contributed to the fast redis-
tribution of water by the subsurface flow. The most severe problems were associated with
the distribution lines connecting the main utilidors with buildings. These pass over alter-
nating patches of thawed and frozen ground and are subjected to a highly differential rate
of heave and subsidence. In such situations, 40% of the heat carried by the pipes was lost to
the ground due to the pipe insulation damages and ruptures (Protasova, 1987).
The problem related to the complexity of the interactions between the urban landscape
and the permafrost was further exacerbated by the rapid rate of construction. Elements of
the city infrastructure were engineered using results of permafrost observations conducted
in the undisturbed areas planned for development. However, various temporary roads,
facilities, and structures associated with the simultaneous construction in different parts
of the city resulted in a spatially extensive disturbance surrounding Norilsk. In addition,
potential development of unique micro-climatic characteristics attributable to the urban
heat island effect resulting from operation of the large urban and industrial complex
(e.g. Varentsov, Konstantinov, Samsonov, & Repina, 2014) were not fully considered.
As a result, structures were erected on permafrost, which was warmer than was
assumed in engineering designs.
Many permafrost-related problems started to manifest themselves 1015 years after
construction, due to the high thermal inertia of permafrost. By that time, significant
portions of the city were fully developed. Although continuous permafrost monitoring
was implemented within the developed areas, it was aimed primarily at detecting and
mitigating the problems with individual structures. Observational results were never
analyzed to provide an integrative assessment of the spatial and temporal dynamics
of the ground thermal regime of the city and to correspondingly adjust development
Quality of construction and operation of the urban infrastructure
The high rate of development was, in many cases, achieved at the expense of constriction
quality. For example, the safety coefficientsof typical pile foundations in Norlilsk was set
to 1.051.56. This means that the engineered stability of structures assumed just a 535%
decrease in the ability of permafrost to support building (Streletskiy et al., 2012a). More-
over, prognostic estimates of the infrastructure stability in response to possible permafrost
warming did not extend beyond three to four years post-construction (Nazarova &
Poluektov, 1973). The permafrost temperature changes experienced by the 1990s exceeded
engineered safety coefficients in many parts of the city.
For the majority of Norilsks residential buildings erected after 1960, the design and
materials were very similar to those adopted throughout the Soviet Union, but without
considerations for the extreme Arctic climate. As a result, the lifespan of typical Norilsk
concrete panel residential buildings is 2530 years (Anisimov et al., 2010). For example,
reinforced concrete, widely used for foundation piles, was susceptible to an intense
cryogenic weathering under the extreme freeze and thaw cycles and acidity of the
Arctic soils. A survey of 12,000 pile foundations conducted in several Russian Arctic
cities indicated a pronounced cracking, peeling, and thinning of concrete piles within
the layer of seasonal thawing, and 2030 cm above the surface (Grebenets &
Kerimov, 2001). In Norilsk, the concrete and brick weathering was augmented
further by the aggressive corrosive environment caused by the industrial pollution
(Figure 2(b)). Intense foundation weathering was found to be the primary cause of
the two-story restaurant collapse in Kaerkan in July of 1976, where 12 people died
and 30 were seriously injured.
Another set of problems stems from the improper maintenance and operation of the
city infrastructure. An analysis conducted by Grebenets and Ukhova (2008) demonstrated
numerous serious violations in operation of ventilated crawl spaces. These include
accumulation of snow and debris along buildings, installation of enclosures, and other
types of ventilation blockage. The critical situation was observed in older (19501970)
parts of Norilsk, where numerous repairs increased the elevation of paved surfaces such
as roads and sidewalks. Ventilated basements became 0.51 m below the grade, resulting
in significant reduction in airflow and water accumulation under buildings. Plowing
caused formation of snow piles 28 m high, restricting the ground cooling during the
winter. In many instances, annual snow accumulation inside city blocks has contributed
to the formation of taliks and their expansion to the nearby structures (Grebenets et al.,
2012;Ilichev et al., 2003). Numerous authors have identified the lack of adequate main-
tenance of leaking utility pipes as a major cause of building deformations throughout the
Russian permafrost region, including Norilsk (e.g. Alekseeva et al., 2007; Grebenets &
Sadowski, 1993; Grebenets & Ukhova, 2008; Khrustalev, Parmuzin, & Emelyanova,
2001). The majority of the leakage occurs under individual buildings due to neglect
(Figure 2(c)). However, frequent intentional release of water due to the pipe maintenance
and repairs affects entire blocks or groups of buildings. For example, to prevent freezing,
all water and sewer from 111 residential buildings and their supply lines were quickly
released in February 1994 due to an accident at the Centralized Heating Plant. This
caused significant permafrost warming over substantial parts of the city, which continues
to spread (Kerimov, private communications).
Change in socio-economic conditions
Throughout its 80-year history, the city of Norilsk has undergone two major socio-econ-
omic transitions: (1) from the forced-labor GULAG system to post-Stalin socialist
economy in the mid-1950s and (2) from the Soviet planned to market-driven economy
during the 1990s. Changes in the socio-economic state associated with these transitions
had an important impact on urban permafrost.
During the 1930s1950s, the majority of scientists and engineers in Norilsk were either
prisoners or semi-free employees of the GULAG. All permafrost investigations, engineer-
ing development, and construction were tightly controlled and highly classified. Before
1954, Norilsk the city of almost 100,000 people did not exist on any Russian maps.
The rapid outmigration of liberated workers and the dismantling of the existing manage-
ment and administration systems followed by the abolishment of the GULAG resulted in
discontinuity of permafrost research, engineering development, and construction prac-
tices in Norilsk. The large body of research generated between the 1930s and 1950s was
never systematically analyzed and was essentially lost. The development of many promis-
ing engineering solutions to permafrost problems was aborted. The lack of adequate
knowledge and experience, as well as the fast rate of development in more challenging per-
mafrost conditions precluded detailed permafrost investigations and resulted in many
engineering mistakes (Nazarova & Poluektov, 1973).
More significant impact on urban permafrost in Norilsk is associated with the socio-
economic crisis that occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. That
period was characterized by the outmigration of the labor force and termination of con-
struction. The last multi-story residential building was erected in Norilsk in 2002. Rapid
market reforms resulted in privatization of major Norilsk city functions, such as mainten-
ance of buildings, roads, and utility lines, snow removal, and permafrost monitoring. A
large number of private contractors frequently provided services of unequal quality,
without any consideration for permafrost. Many operational practices, aimed at stabilizing
ground thermal regime, were neglected. For example, an economic liberalization has
resulted in proliferation of small, cheaply constructed retail structures (kiosks), which
were erected throughout the city directly on the ground. The heat produced by such struc-
tures contributed to permafrost warming and uneven surface subsidence, which spread to
nearby residential buildings (Figure 2(d)). Partial privatization of individual apartments in
the city-owned buildings resulted in highly confusing property ownership structure.
Shared responsibility for the buildings has led to an inadequate maintenance of the com-
monly used infrastructure, such as foundations and utility lines. These factors greatly con-
tributed to the deterioration of the aging city infrastructure, causing further permafrost
warming, which, in turn, affected structural stability of buildings. Such negative feedback
was amplified further by the accelerated changes in climatic conditions.
Climatic changes
Observed trends indicate that the Arctic climate has been changing at double the rate
observed anywhere else on the globe (IPCC, 2014). Data from the Norilsk weather
station (WMO ID# 23073) indicated a 1.4°C increase in mean annual temperature and
10 mm increase in annual precipitations between the decades of 19651975 (the period
of most intensive urban construction in Norilsk) and 20052015. Such warming can have
a pronounced effect on permafrost parameters, such as its temperature and the active layer
(Streletskiy, Sherstiukov, Frauenfeld, & Nelson, 2015), which are important factors in
determining the stability of pile foundations. Streletskiy et al. (2012,2012b) have provided
a methodology for the geographic assessment of changes in engineering properties of the
frozen ground due to observed climatic changes. The analysis utilizes the bearing capacity
for standard foundation pileimbedded in permafrost as a primary variable for assessing
engineering properties of permafrost.
The analysis of climate-induced changes in bearing capacity was conducted for several
settlements on permafrost, representing different parts of the Russian Arctic (Shikloma-
nov & Streletskiy, 2013; Streletskiy et al., 2012a). Results for the city of Norilsk show
that between the decades of 1960s2000s, the climate-induced permafrost warming has
caused on average a 10% decrease in the ability of permafrost to support structures.
The analysis of results indicates that the accelerated rate of permafrost warming and
degradation in Norilsk, which occurred over the last 25 years, cannot be fully explained
by climatic changes. Infrastructure-related problems in Norilsk were likely initiated by
the anthropogenic factors, and climate-induced permafrost changes have inflicted
additional stress on aging city infrastructure. However, the relative importance of climatic
effects on the ability of frozen ground to support structures is likely to increase in the near
future (Streletskiy et al., 2015; Shiklomanov, Streletskiy, Swales, & Kokorev, 2016).
Present state of urban infrastructure in Norilsk
The combination of the aforementioned factors has led to a challenging situation with
Norilsk urban infrastructure. In 2005, the previously incorporated cities of Talnakh,
Kaerkan, and Norilsk were combined into a single municipal unit Norilsk.By 2015,
the population the newly classified industrial region Norilsk had shrunk to 179 thousand
people (Russian Federal State Statistics Service, At present, the total
residential housing stock of greater Norilsk is 4647.6 thousand m
distributed among
865 structures. The majority (59%) of structures are at least 30 years old, and 278 residen-
tial buildings (or 30%) have structural deformations due to human- and climate-induced
warming and thawing of the permafrost (Development, 2015). The lack of funding and
equipment resulted in an inability for the city to renew its housing stock. It should be
noted that the practice of Soviet centralized development funded by the municipal,
regional and/or federal, government continues today. Extremely harsh environmental
conditions and the high cost of construction preclude any type of private investment in
residential housing. High population turnover significantly limits potential for individual
construction. Although Norilsk has lost almost 50% of its population since 1989, the lack
of new construction and an accelerated rate of structural damage of residential buildings
are causing an acute shortage of housing.
An equally critical situation has developed with utility lines. According to the latest
assessments, out of 60 linear kilometers of underground utilidors in Norilsk, 20.3 km
(or 30%) are in dilapidated condition due to structural degradation and are considered
dangerous (Development, 2015). More than 90% of the city budget allocated to the oper-
ation and maintenance of heating, water, sewer, and electrical lines is spent on emergency
repair of utilidors, making it impossible to implement systematic reconstruction and
upgrades of the city utility system.
The critical state of Norilsk urban infrastructure has stimulated discussions of adap-
tation and mitigation plans for the city at both municipal and federal levels. At the munici-
pal level, a comprehensive plan for the Development and repair of communal
infrastructure and housing stock of the municipal unit Norilsk for the 20112020
periodwas adopted in 2010 (Plan, 2010). The plan was based on a critical assessment
of the present state of Norilsks infrastructure and the realistic municipal budget. Corre-
spondingly, it provided several cost-effective development strategies.
For example, the shortage of housing was addressed by utilizing existing pile foun-
dations (Figure 3). The building demolition process involves removing the structure,
but leaving piles and grillage in place (Figure 3(a)). Many such foundations dot the city
landscape. Although deformations related to the permafrost thawing were the prime
reason for the demolition of the structure, the removal of the heavy, heat-generating build-
ing results in ground cooling and/or refreezing in just three to four winters. While the per-
mafrost might never cool to its original temperature due to the influence of the nearby
infrastructure and the climatic warming, the cooling under existing foundation may be
sufficient to support much lighter structures (Figure 3(b)). Utilizing an existing foun-
dation contributes to significant cost savings, as the construction of a proper permafrost
foundation in a complex urban environment may account for up to 40% of the total build-
ing cost. Over the last few years, the city has started to implement foundation recycling by
auctioning the old foundations to private investors for low-rise retail, office, and restau-
rant facilities. Several foundations were used for playgrounds. A school was constructed
using a steel frame and insulated panels on recycled foundation in 2010. The 2010 devel-
opment plan called for the expansion of this program by initiating a residential construc-
tion on old foundations in the urban core of Norilsk. The first three residential buildings
with 40 apartments each were completed in 2013 using materials shipped to Norilsk
(Figure 3(c)). The 2010 plan considered establishing a local manufacturing facility for
light composite building materials; however, the nation-wide economic crisis caused
these plans to be scaled down. A proposed city-wide initiative to replace utilidors with
new, more efficient systems has also been put on hold. Presently, the city is focused pri-
marily on stabilizing structures that can still be saved, and on the continued demolition of
structures damaged beyond repair (Development, 2015).
Figure 3. Foundation recycling in Norilsk. (a) Example of pile foundation left after removal of damaged
concrete/brick building. (b) Construction of light frame and composite panel structure on old pile foun-
dation. (c) One of the three light residential buildings erected on recycled foundations in 2013 (Photo-
graphs by N.I. Shiklomanov).
Despite the unforeseen difficulties associated with the implementation of the infrastruc-
ture development plan, the full realization of the problem was in and of itself a major step
forward. The special task force consisting of scientists, engineers, and city planners was
established in 2014 to advise the mayor and the city council on all issues related to perma-
frost (Zapolarniy Vestnik, 2014). Efforts are also underway to reestablish a city-wide
system for monitoring the ground thermal regime and to develop a comprehensive mod-
eling of the urban permafrost.
Simultaneously, the permafrost-related problems in the Russian Arctic cities were recog-
nized at the federal level. Permafrost degradation was identified as a matter of national security
in the Russian Strategy of the Development of the Arctic Zone and the Provision of National
Security until 2020( More recently, the Arctic Develop-
ment Commission of the Russian Federation indicated the critical need for addressing
permafrost-related problems in Norilsk (
dmitrii-rogozin--neobhodimo-peresmotret_-normi-stroitel_stva-jil_a-v-arktike/). However,
given the current Russian geopolitical priorities and economic problems, it is highly uncertain
if the understanding of the problem will lead to action.
Summary and conclusion
The city of Norilsk represents an unprecedented case of massive urban construction in
permafrost regions of the Arctic. Developed and implemented engineering practices
were aimed at maintaining the thermal stability of permafrost and its ability to carry
the structural load imposed by infrastructure. Observations conducted in the 1950s
1960s demonstrated that new engineering designs enhanced permafrost cooling, and pro-
moted a rapid urban expansion of Norilsk. Moreover, construction methods developed in
Norilsk were proliferated throughout the Russian permafrost regions, and contributed to
the urbanization of the Soviet Arctic during the 1960s1980s.
However, permafrost warming and degradation became apparent 1015 years after
initial development and have intensified further with time, causing a widespread defor-
mation of structures. Permafrost changes can be attributed to the complexity associated
with the spatial interactions between various elements of the urban geotechnical environ-
ment, and their combined effect on the ground thermal regime. While it was difficult to
predict permafrost evolution in the complex urban environment, some aspects of the
problem could have been addressed by systematic empirical assessments. The problem
was further exacerbated by the poor quality of construction, improper operation of the
city infrastructure, difficulties associated with socio-economic transitions, and unantici-
pated climatic changes.
Now faced with widespread deformation of structures, the Norilsk administration has
developed a comprehensive plan for revitalizing the city infrastructure through innovative,
cost-effective construction practices, city-wide monitoring of the ground thermal regime,
and comprehensive modeling of the urban permafrost. However, political and economic
problems may hinder implementation of these plans. The high uncertainty surrounding
the rate and magnitude of potential climatic impacts further complicates the problem
of developing adequate and cost-effective adaptation and mitigation strategies (e.g. Shik-
lomanov et al., 2016).
Although Norilsk is rather unique due to its location, isolation, size, and the level of
urbanization, many Russian communities are facing similar permafrost-related problems.
Moreover, the level of Arctic urbanization outside of Russia is increasing due to acceler-
ated Arctic development (e.g. Rasmussen & Roto, 2011). The city of Norilsk presents an
opportunity for a comprehensive analysis of the urban permafrost evolution under both
anthropogenic and climate forcings. Such studies can contribute to our understanding
of the complex interactions between urban and natural systems in the Arctic, and will
help to avoid making critical mistakes in Arctic development.
Authors are grateful to Prof. F.E. Nelson (Michigan State University and Northern Michigan Uni-
versity) for his encouragement and to K.E. Nyland (Michigan State University) for her assistance
during the fieldwork. Opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this
paper are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF or RSF.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
This research was supported by U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) [grants numbers PLR-
1231294, PLR-1304555, ICER-1558389, OISE-1545913] to the George Washington University,
and the Russian Science Foundation (RSF) [grant number 14-17-00037] to the State Hydrological
Institute, Russia.
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Moscow: Izdatelstvo AN SSSR, USSR.
... Taliks decrease the load-bearing strength of the ground and systems supporting infrastructure 57 (Fig. 2), and initiate progressive surface settlement and slope movements. In addition to naturally developed taliks, thawed layers are common under buildings, road embankments and pipeline systems 17,62 , amplifying infrastructure damage as in Norilsk, Russia 63 . ...
... Permafrost thaw risk assessments exist at circumpolar 12,14,20,114,117 and regional 19,40,45,51,63,[111][112][113]115,116 scales. The circumpolar distribution of high-hazard areas depends on the included environmental factors. ...
... Rapid urbanization and industrialization of Russian permafrost areas revolutionized permafrost research and engineering 162 . One of the most substantial developments was introducing piling foundations (buildings are constructed on elevated piles that are anchored in permafrost) in Norilsk in the mid-1950s 63 . Piling foundations minimize the disturbance of permafrost due to construction and maintain the permafrost temperature through shade provision and snow accumulation protection 163 . ...
The warming and thawing of ice-rich permafrost pose considerable threat to the integrity of polar and high-altitude infrastructure, in turn jeopardizing sustainable development. In this Review, we explore the extent and costs of observed and predicted infrastructure damage associated with permafrost degradation, and the methods available to mitigate such adverse consequences. Permafrost change imposes various threats to infrastructure, namely through warming, active layer thickening and thaw-related hazards such as thermokarst and mass wasting. These impacts, often linked to anthropogenic warming, are exacerbated through increased human activity. Observed infrastructure damage is substantial, with up to 80% of buildings in some Russian cities and ~30% of some road surfaces in the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau reporting damage. Under anthropogenic warming, infrastructure damage is projected to continue, with 30–50% of critical circumpolar infrastructure thought to be at high risk by 2050. Accordingly, permafrost degradation-related infrastructure costs could rise to tens of billions of US dollars by the second half of the century. Several mitigation techniques exist to alleviate these impacts, including convection embankments, thermosyphons and piling foundations, with proven success at preserving and cooling permafrost and stabilizing infrastructure. To be effective, however, better understanding is needed on the regions at high risk.
... Urban expansion in Yakutsk has been inefficient with high land consumption and scattered small wood housing in the surroundings and multi-storey buildings made of concrete at the city center. Contrary to other geographical locations that share similar climate characteristics (as North America or Scandinavia) where the residential buildings or industrial facilities are relatively small and lightweight, in the Russian Arctic, apartment buildings and structures create a built environment that is massive and heavy weight (Shiklomanov et al., 2017). At the same time, the loss of traditional architecture and the lack of eco-337 design measures implemented in buildings can be observed in the city, negatively impacting the urban identity and the environmental sustainability of the urban fabric. ...
... Further research can be directed into comparing and/or looking into different bulding techniques used in similar contexts. There are already some good references to follow, such as the case of Norilsk, Russia, where existing foundations on permafrost are reused to support lighter buildings and structures engineered in accordance with the rapidly changing ground thermal regime (Shiklomanov et al 2017). Another innovative example to analyze could be the case of Longyearbyen, Norway, where steel piles are introduced 15 meters through permafrost (settled on the rock beneath it), and buildings are lifted thanks to modulated wood frames, and more separated from the ground than before (compared to existing buildings) to avoid heat transfers to the permafrost (Skanska, 2019). ...
... for at least two years. The changes in the ground thermal regime in the Arctic lead to ground subsidence, which can damage infrastructure (Shiklomanov et al., 2017a;Shiklomanov et al., 2017b;Vincent et al., 2017). In a circumpolar study, Hjort et al. (2018) found that ∼70% of the infrastructure in the permafrost region is located in areas with high potential of near-surface thaw by 2050. ...
The Arctic is changing rapidly and permafrost is thawing. Especially ice-rich permafrost, such as the late Pleistocene Yedoma, is vulnerable to rapid and deep thaw processes such as surface subsidence after the melting of ground ice. Due to permafrost thaw, the permafrost carbon pool is becoming increasingly accessible to microbes, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which enhances the climate warming. The assessment of the molecular structure and biodegradability of permafrost organic matter (OM) is highly needed. My research revolves around the question “how does permafrost thaw affect its OM storage?” More specifically, I assessed (1) how molecular biomarkers can be applied to characterize permafrost OM, (2) greenhouse gas production rates from thawing permafrost, and (3) the quality of OM of frozen and (previously) thawed sediments. I studied deep (max. 55 m) Yedoma and thawed Yedoma permafrost sediments from Yakutia (Sakha Republic). I analyzed sediment cores taken below thermokarst lakes on the Bykovsky Peninsula (southeast of the Lena Delta) and in the Yukechi Alas (Central Yakutia), and headwall samples from the permafrost cliff Sobo-Sise (Lena Delta) and the retrogressive thaw slump Batagay (Yana Uplands). I measured biomarker concentrations of all sediment samples. Furthermore, I carried out incubation experiments to quantify greenhouse gas production in thawing permafrost. I showed that the biomarker proxies are useful to assess the source of the OM and to distinguish between OM derived from terrestrial higher plants, aquatic plants and microbial activity. In addition, I showed that some proxies help to assess the degree of degradation of permafrost OM, especially when combined with sedimentological data in a multi-proxy approach. The OM of Yedoma is generally better preserved than that of thawed Yedoma sediments. The greenhouse gas production was highest in the permafrost sediments that thawed for the first time, meaning that the frozen Yedoma sediments contained most labile OM. Furthermore, I showed that the methanogenic communities had established in the recently thawed sediments, but not yet in the still-frozen sediments. My research provided the first molecular biomarker distributions and organic carbon turnover data as well as insights in the state and processes in deep frozen and thawed Yedoma sediments. These findings show the relevance of studying OM in deep permafrost sediments.
... Changes in the physical and thermal condition of the active layer and upper permafrost in response to global warming are a matter of concern for urban areas. In recent years, several studies have been published on the issue [5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]. They have focused primarily on the thermal regime of frozen ground and the bearing capacity of foundations under global climate warming. ...
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A study was undertaken to investigate the structure and condition of urban permafrost in the city of Yakutsk. The response of permafrost to recent climate change was assessed for a Shergin Shaft site in a cryogenic landscape. The results indicate that the thickness of the active layer which consists of anthropogenic soils experienced no change during the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st century. However, the thermal state of the underlying alluvial sediments has changed significantly in response to the warming of the climate. The permafrost temperatures at a depth of 10 m increased by about 3 °C between 1934 and 2015.
... First, the urban infrastructure and buildings themselves induce a heat island effect that contributes to the ground thawing. Changes in the ground thermal regime can, in fact, greatly reduce the permafrost's capacity to carry structural loads imposed by buildings and structures, as experienced (e.g.) in Norilsk (Russia) (Shiklomanov et al. 2017), where about 60% of buildings have been damaged by permafrost thaw, or in the Mohe County (China), where urbanization has a significant influence on permafrost degradation (Yu et al. 2014). Moreover, the losses from city water and wastewater infrastructures, which are warmer than the permafrost, contribute to the ground thawing and generate local shallow groundwater circulation systems. ...
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The relationships between cities and underlying groundwater are reviewed, with the aim to highlight the importance of urban groundwater resources in terms of city resilience value. Examples of more than 70 cities worldwide are cited along with details of their groundwater-related issues, specific experiences, and settings. The groundwater-related issues are summarized, and a first groundwater-city classification is proposed in order to facilitate a more effective city-to-city comparison with respect to, for example, the best practices and solutions that have been put in practice by similar cities in terms of local groundwater resources management. The interdependences between some groundwater services and the cascading effects on city life in cases of shock (e.g., drought, heavy rain, pollution, energy demand) and chronic stress (e.g., climate change) are analyzed, and the ideal groundwater-resilient-city characteristics are proposed. The paper concludes that groundwater isa crucial resource for planning sustainability in every city and for implementing city resilience strategies from the climate change perspective.
... Such holes may appear anywhere, for example, under buildings, roads, and other constructions. Numerous Arctic settlements, including the giant city of Noril'sk, are built on permafrost (Shiklomanov et al. 2017), and the disappearance of subsoil could destroy many buildings there, effectively solving the question of whether to live or not to live in Arctic cities. ...
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The development of the Arctic was an important political and economic topic of the Soviet Union. This urbanization activity declined dramatically in the economic and political chaos of the 1990s, although some positive transformations have been seen in the new millennium. This article examines whether the colonization of the Russian Arctic will follow Soviet-era plans or the region will remain scarcely populated in the near future. The history and methods of urbanization in the Russian Arctic have been analyzed in order to better shed light on this question.
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This chapter explores the uses of expert knowledge in local climate change policymaking based on publicly available official documents. The views of Russian city administrators in Norilsk and Yakutsk regarding engagement with expert knowledge are used as case studies. The chapter concludes that Norilsk and Yakutsk authorities apply expert knowledge to create a comfortable and safe urban environment and foster the cities as centres for scientific research, innovation, and education. The data analysis reveals three major purposes for expert knowledge in (1) developing and implementing policies; (2) becoming centres for science and innovation, and (3) training and retraining of specialists. The research on Arctic cities’ engagement with expert knowledge is important in connection to their future sustainable and climate-resilient development at a time of ongoing rapid transformations in the region.
Tangential frost heaving stress is the main force causing the frost jacking of pile foundation in frozen ground. It is of great engineering and scientific significance to measure the exact value of tangential frost heaving stress economically and quickly. In this study, a set of test equipment was designed and manufactured to measure the tangential frost heaving stress of steel pile in clay silt during freezing. At the same time, the soil temperature, vertical displacement and moisture content of the soil were measured. The results indicate that the measuring equipment is feasible, and a complete variation process of uplift force during the freezing-thawing cycle was obtained. In addition, some interesting phenomena were found in the tests, such as the slow reduction and rebound of the uplift force. Also, it was found that the water migrated horizontally to the pile during the freezing process, and the vertical ice films were formed in the soil around the pile.
Permafrost, being an important component of the cryosphere, is sensitive to climate change. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the change of temperature within permafrost. In this study, we proposed a Fourier series model derived from the conduction equation to simulate permafrost thermal behavior over a year. The boundary condition was represented by the Fourier series and the geothermal gradient. The initial condition was represented as a linear function relative to the geothermal gradient. A comparative study of the different models (sinusoidal model, Fourier series model, and the proposed model) was conducted. Data collected from the northern Da Xing’anling Mountains, Northeast China, were applied for parameterization and validation for these models. These models were compared with daily mean ground temperature from the shallow permafrost layer and annual mean ground temperature from the bottom permafrost layer, respectively. Model performance was assessed using three coefficients of accuracy, i.e., the mean bias error, the root mean square error, and the coefficient of determination. The comparison results showed that the proposed model was accurate enough to simulate temperature variation in both the shallow and bottom permafrost layer as compared with the other two Fourier series models (sinusoidal model and Fourier model). The proposed model expanded on a previous Fourier series model for which the initial and bottom boundary conditions were restricted to being constant.
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One of the most significant climate change impacts on arctic urban landscapes is the warming and degradation of permafrost, which negatively affects the structural integrity of infrastructure. We estimate potential changes in stability of Russian urban infrastructure built on permafrost in response to the projected climatic changes provided by six preselected General Circulation Models (GCMs) participated in the most recent Climate Model Inter-comparison Project (CMIP5). The analysis was conducted for the entire extent of the Russian permafrost-affected area. According to our analysis a significant (at least 25%) climate-induced reduction in the urban infrastructure stability throughout the Russian permafrost region should be expected by the mid-21st century. However, the high uncertainty, resulting from the GCM-produced climate projections, prohibits definitive conclusion about the rate and magnitude of potential climate impacts on permafrost infrastructure. Results presented in this paper can serve as guidelines for developing adequate adaptation and mitigation strategy for Russian northern cities.
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Spatial variability and temporal trends of the shallow ground thermal regime and permafrost active-layer thickness (ALT) were estimated over 1963–2013 using daily soil temperature data available from stations of the Russian Hydrometeorological Service. Correlation analysis was used to evaluate the role of changing climatic conditions on the ground thermal regime. ALT data collected by the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring program in Russia were used to expand the geography of ALT observations over 1999–2013, and to identify 'hot spots' of soil temperature and ALT change. Results indicate that a substantially higher rate of change in the thermal regime of permafrost-affected soils prevailed during 1999–2013, relative to the last fifty years. Results indicate that the thermal regime of the upper permafrost in western Russia is strongly associated with air temperature, with much weaker relationships in central and eastern Russia. The thermal regime of permafrost-affected soils shows stronger dependence on climatic conditions over the last fifteen years relative to the historical 50-year period. Geostatistical analysis revealed that the cities of Norilsk and Susuman are hot spots of permafrost degradation. Of six settlements selected for detailed analysis in various parts of the permafrost regions, all but one (Chukotka), show substantial changes in the shallow ground thermal regime. Northern locations in the continuous permafrost region show thickening of the active layer, while those farther south experienced development of residual thaw layers above the permafrost and decreases in the duration of the freezing period.
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Increases in air temperature have occurred in most parts of the Arctic in recent decades. Corresponding changes in permafrost and the active layer have resulted in decreases in ground-bearing capacity, which may not have been anticipated at the time of construction in permafrost regions. Permafrost model was coupled with empirically derived solutions adopted from Soviet and Russian construction standards and regulations to estimate the bearing capacity of foundations under rapidly changing climatic conditions, in a variety of geographic and geologic settings. Changes in bearing capacity over the last 40 years were computed for large population and industrial centers within different physiographic and climatic conditions of the Russian Arctic. The largest decreases were found in city of Nadym, where the bearing capacity has decreased by more than 40%. A smaller, but considerable decrease of approximately 20% was estimated for Yakutsk and Salekhard. Spatial model results at a regional scale depict diverse patterns of changes in permafrost-bearing capacity in Northwest Siberia and the North Slope of Alaska. The most pronounced decreases in bearing capacity (more than 20%) are estimated for the southern part of permafrost zone where deformations of engineering structures can potentially be attributed to climate-induced permafrost warming.
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In this paper we present a quantitative methodology for geographic assessment of bearing capacity of permafrost foundations. The methodology was applied to evaluate the variability in bearing capacity for different physiographic regions under changing climatic conditions. Our results indicate an increase in permafrost temperature over 30 (1960–1990) years attributable to climatic warming. This has resulted in a 17 % decrease in foundation bearing capacity in the North of West Siberia. At some locations, the decrease has been as much as 45 %. Predicted climate change may lead to a further decrease in the bearing capacity of foundations built according to the passive construction principle and results in deformations of structures. This will have negative consequences for infrastructure development in permafrost regions.
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This chapter examines effects of climate change on human infrastructure in permafrost regions of Siberia. The presence and dynamic nature of ice-rich permafrost constitute a distinctive engineering environment. Many engineering problems in Siberia are associated with (1) changes in the temperature of the upper permafrost, (2) increased depth of seasonal thaw penetration, and (3) progressive thawing and disappearance of permafrost. These changes can lead to loss of soil bearing strength, increased soil permeability, and increased potential for development of such cryogenic processes as differential thaw settlement and heave, and development of thermokarst terrain. Each of these phenomena has the capacity for severe negative consequences on human infrastructure in the high latitudes. Results to date indicate that major permafrost-related impacts have already been detected in many Siberian regions, including changes in the temperature and distribution of permafrost, thickening of the seasonally thawed layer (the active layer), and changes in the distribution and quantity of ice in the ground. A quantitative geographic assessment of the ability of frozen ground to support engineering structures under rapidly changing climatic conditions in a variety of settings is provided in this chapter. Results show substantial decreases of permafrost bearing capacity over the last 40 years in some regions of Northern Siberia. Although a substantial proportion of reported deformations of structures and buildings on permafrost can be attributed to climatic warming, other technogenic factors have to be considered. The socioeconomic crisis resulted in reduced infrastructure monitoring and maintenance in many cities on permafrost during the early 1990s which have greatly contributed to the decrease in infrastructure stability.
Arctic settlements built on permafrostface rather unique set of geotechnical challenges. On urbanized areas, technogenic transformation of natural landscapes due toconstruction of various types of infrastructure leads to changes in heat exchange in permafrost-atmosphere system. The spatial distribution and intensity of dangerous cryogenic processes in urbanized areas is substantially different from natural background settings found prior to construction. Climate change, especially pronounced in the Arctic, exacerbated these changes. Combination of technogenic pressure and climate change resulted in potentially hazardous situation in respect to operational safety of the buildings and structures built on permafrost. This paper is focused on geotechnical safety issues faced by the Arctic urban centers built on permafrost. Common types of technogenic impacts characteristic for urban settlements wereevaluated based on field observations and modeling techniques. The basic principles of development of deformations are discussed in respect to changing permafrost conditions and operational mode of the structures built on permafrost.
The basic problems of the building and structure stability in Yakutsk are discussed. They are analyzed in relation to local permafrost conditions, environmental situation, recent climate warming, and cryogenic processes and phenomena occurring in the city area. The building construction and maintenance problems, as well as the ways of improving the reliability and durability of buildings are discussed. © O.I. Alekseeva, V.T. Balobaev, M.N. Grigoriev, V.N. Makarov, R.V. Zhang, M.M. Shatz, V.V. Shepelev, 2007.