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Population living on permafrost in the Arctic



Permafrost thaw is a challenge in many Arctic regions, one that modifies ecosystems and affects infrastructure and livelihoods. To date, there have been no demographic studies of the population on permafrost. We present the first estimates of the number of inhabitants on permafrost in the Arctic Circumpolar Permafrost Region (ACPR) and project changes as a result of permafrost thaw. We combine current and projected populations at settlement level with permafrost extent. Key findings indicate that there are 1162 permafrost settlements in the ACPR, accommodating 5 million inhabitants, of whom 1 million live along a coast. Climate-driven permafrost projections suggest that by 2050, 42% of the permafrost settlements will become permafrost-free due to thawing. Among the settlements remaining on permafrost, 42% are in high hazard zones, where the consequences of permafrost thaw will be most severe. In total, 3.3 million people in the ACPR live currently in settlements where permafrost will degrade and ultimately disappear by 2050.
Population living on permafrost in the Arctic
Justine Ramage
&Leneisja Jungsberg
&Shinan Wang
Sebastian Westermann
&Hugues Lantuit
&Timothy Heleniak
Accepted: 25 November 2020/
#The Author(s) 2021
Permafrost thaw is a challenge in many Arctic regions, one that modifies ecosystems
and affects infrastructure and livelihoods. To date, there have been no demographic
studies of the population on permafrost. We present the first estimates of the number of
inhabitants on permafrost in the Arctic Circumpolar Permafrost Region (ACPR) and
project changes as a result of permafrost thaw. We combine current and projected
populations at settlement level with permafrost extent. Key findings indicate that there
are 1162 permafrost settlements in the ACPR, accommodating 5 million inhabitants, of
whom 1 million live along a coast. Climate-driven permafrost projections suggest that
by 2050, 42% of the permafrost settlements will become permafrost-free due to
thawing. Among the settlements remaining on permafrost, 42% are in high hazard
zones, where the consequences of permafrost thaw will be most severe. In total, 3.3
million people in the ACPR live currently in settlements where permafrost will degrade
and ultimately disappear by 2050.
Keywords Arctic circumpolar permafrost region .Arctic settlements .Arctic population .
Permafrost thaw .Arctic infrastructure .Risk
The unprecedented rise in air surface temperature observed in the Arctic causes
dramatic changes on the components of the cryosphere, including permafrost.
*Justine Ramage
Nordregio, Stockholm, Sweden
Institute for Natural Resources and Geosciences, Copenhagen University, Copenhagen, Denmark
Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam, Germany
Department for Earth Sciences, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany
Published online: 6 January 2021
Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Permafrost is ground (soil, sediment, or rock) that remains at or below 0 °C for at least
two consecutive years (Van Everdingen 2005). The permafrost region covers about
24% of the Earths land surface in the Northern Hemisphere, including large areas of
the Arctic (Gruber 2012). Over the last two decades, Arctic surface air temperature has
increased by more than double the global average. Near-surface permafrost in the
Arctic has warmed by more than 0.5 °C between 2009 and 2017 (Biskaborn et al.
2019), triggering permafrost thaw. This thaw causes changes in the ecosystems on
which Arctic inhabitants are directly dependent. The impacts of permafrost thaw in the
Arctic are becoming more visible, leading to increased scientific, economic, and
political attention. The impacts on communities (Allard et al. 2012;FordandPearce
2010) include, e.g., destabilization of infrastructure (OGarra 2017; Streletskiy et al.
2019), reduction in country food accessibility (Berkes and Jolly 2000;Wescheand
Chan 2010), and declining health conditions (Sharma 2010). While people in the Arctic
are adaptable to climatic variability, financial, institutional, and knowledge constraints
are limiting their adaptive capacity (Ford et al. 2010).
As permafrost thaw accelerates in the Arctic, the need for studies looking at the
impact of permafrost thaw on permafrost societies and economies increases. Seventy
percent of the pan-Arctic residential, transportation, and industrial infrastructure is in
areas with high potential for near-surface permafrost thaw by 2060 (Hjort et al. 2018).
The changing environmental conditions not only affect people by damaging infrastruc-
ture but also impact the livelihoods and cultural activities of the populations living on
permafrost (Ford and Pearce 2010). Arctic communities have a strong relationship with
the land and the sea, and traditional activities such as hunting and fishing continue to be
important for much of the population (Duhaime et al. 2004).
To understand the magnitude of the forthcoming challenges related to permafrost
thaw in the Arctic, it is crucial to estimate the number of people who will be impacted.
While most literature suggests that approximately 4 million people live in the com-
monly defined administrative Arctic region (NSIDC 2019; Nymand Larsen 2014),
there is yet no estimate of the number of people living on permafrost in the Arctic.
To address this, we define the Arctic Circumpolar Permafrost Region (ACPR) and
contribute data on the number of people residing on permafrost in the Arctic. We
combine administrative boundaries with current permafrost extent to define permafrost
settlements and calculate the population living on permafrost. To fully grasp the risk of
the anticipated change in permafrost in the ACPR, we combine a model projecting
permafrost extent to 2060 with population projections from regional and national
statistical institutes. The outcome forecasts the possible impact of permafrost loss on
the population in the ACPR by 2050.
Study area
Our study area comprises the ACPR (Fig. 1). In defining this region, we developed a
strategy for converging demographic and northern circumpolar permafrost extent
datasets. We used the definition of the Arctic from the Arctic Human Development
Report (AHDR, Einarsson et al. 2004) and adapted it to the scope of this study, to (1)
reflect current Arctic geopolitical divisions; and (2) focus on the northern circumpolar
permafrost region. As a result, a few regions comprising large areas underlain by
23Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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permafrost were added to the definition of the Arctic from the AHDR in order to
conform to this papers focus on permafrostthe entire regions of Kamchatka, Maga-
dan, Khanty-Mansi, the Sakha Republic, and Krasnoyarsk (Russian Federation).
The regions and countries included in the definition of the ACPR are Alaska (USA);
Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northern
Fig. 1 Study area: permafrost settlements in the Arctic circumpolar permafrost region
24 Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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Quebec (Canada); Nordland, Troms, Finnmark, Svalbard (Norway); Norrbotten
(Sweden); Lapland (Finland); Komi, Arkhangelsk, Khanty-Mansi, Yamalo-Nenets,
Krasnoyarsk, Sakha Republic, Kamchatka, Magadan, Chukotka (Russian Federation);
as well as Greenland and Iceland. We further refer to regions from the Russian
Federation as the Russian Arctic, and regions from Sweden, Norway, and Finland as
the Fennoscandian Arctic.
Materials and methods
Settlements and permafrost extent
Settlements in this study are defined according to the Arctic countriesNational Statistical
Institutes (NSI). We defined permafrost settlements as settlements located within the
permafrost extent, as modeled by Obu et al. (2019). The permafrost extent is based on the
modeled temperature at the top of the permafrost (TTOP model) for the period 20002016.
The permafrost extent is available at the circum-Arctic scale, with a resolution of 1 km2.The
permafrost zones are as follows: continuous (90100% area coverage), discontinuous (50
90% area coverage), and sporadic (050% area coverage). In the definition of permafrost
settlements, we used a socio-ecological system approach, which takes into account the fact
that inhabitants strongly rely on services provided by ecosystems and are culturally deeply
rooted in their local environment. Therefore, settlements within the sporadic permafrost zone
are considered as permafrost settlements even if they are not directly built on permafrost.
To estimate the future of permafrost settlements, we used projected permafrost
extents modeled by Hjort et al. (2018) using Representative Concentration Pathways
(RCPs) 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5 for the period 20412060 (hereafter 2050). The model is
binary and uses 30 arc-second grid cells (1 km2) to determine if permafrost is present or
absent. We used the consensus index (Ic), which classifies future permafrost extent into
hazard zones (1, low; 2, medium; and 3, high hazard zones). When defining hazard
zones, the consensus index considers the relative increase of the active layer thickness,
ground ice content, ground temperature, permafrost thaw potential, surface properties
(sediment/bedrock), fine-grained sediment content, frost susceptibility of ground ma-
terial, and slope gradient.
We further classified permafrost settlements as coastal or inland. There is no strict
definition of the Arctic coastal zone. We defined coastal zones as regions where
interactions of sea and land processes occur, from both physical and human geography
perspectives. To define permafrost coastal settlements, we used a raster of the Arctic
coastal zone defined in the Arctic Circumpolar Vegetation Map (Raynolds et al. 2019),
which we overlapped with the permafrost extent.
Current and projected population
The two main sources of demographic data in this study are population censuses and
administrative and register data, at settlement level. The study uses the latest available
population data from 2016 or 2017 (Table 1).
The number of people and settlements impacted by permafrost thaw by mid-century
in the ACPR is a function of two factors: projected permafrost extent and demography.
25Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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The methodologies for projecting population and permafrost are quite separate, and do
not take trends in the other into account. We used the population projections provided
by the national and regional statistical offices and synthesized by Heleniak (2019), and
extrapolated the annual rate of change to the year 2050. The standard practice used by
the national and regional statistical offices for projecting population change is the
cohort-component method. The components of population changefertility, mortality,
and migrationare applied to the cohorts, or the age-sex structure of the population.
Population projections at the settlement level are scarce, thus we applied the projected
regional rates of change to the settlement level, assuming that all permafrost settlements
within a region will change at the same rate over the projection period.
Limitations of the study
We used two models of permafrost extent to estimate the number of permafrost
settlements. While the model resolutions are the same (1 km2), the models include
different parameters to measure the probabilities of permafrost to occur in one place.
This might impact our results when comparing ground conditions for current and
projected permafrost settlements.
Additionally, projecting future demographic trends in the Arctic is difficult
because of their small population sizes and their economies based on natural
resources, which are subject to boom-and-bust cycles. To overcome this, we used
regional population projections when available. On the one hand, it provides more
Table 1 List of demographic data sources used in this study
Name Data
Data sources
Alaska 2017 20152045 Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (http://www.
U.S. Census Bureau (
Canada 2016 2016-2035 Yukon Bureau of Statistics (
NWT Bureau of Statistics (
Nunavut Bureau of Statistics (
Newfoundland & Labrador Statistics Agency (
Statistics Canada (
Greenland 2017 20172040 Statistics Greenland (
Iceland 2017 20162066 Statistics Iceland (
Faroe Islands 2017 20162040 Statistics Faroe Islands (
Norway 2017 20172040 Statistics Norway (
Sweden 2016 20172040 Statistics Sweden (
Finland 2016 20172040 Statistics Finland (
2017 20192036 Federal States Statistics Service (
26 Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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detail and nuance than the national projections. However, it also increases errors
by combining different projection models. Models mainly differ in the amount of
detail involved in the projected population and the length of the projection period
(Heleniak 2019). Moreover, the demographic variability observed at the regional
level in Arctic societies (Hamilton et al. 2018) confirms that the use of regional
rates to project population at the settlement level might lead to over- or underes-
timation of the future population. However, with exception of Canada, there are
no population projections available at the settlement level.
Population on permafrost
In 2017, there were 4,942,685 inhabitants in the ACPR, residing in 1162 perma-
frost settlements (Table 2). Most of the population in the ACPR was concentrated
in a few large permafrost settlements. A majority of the permafrost inhabitants
lived in 511 settlements located in zones of sporadic permafrost (Table 2). How-
ever, most of the permafrost settlements were in zones of continuous permafrost,
where 18.6% of the permafrost inhabitants lived. A few settlements were in zones
of discontinuous permafrost. There were large regional differences in the distri-
bution of permafrost settlements. The majority of the settlements in the Russian
Arctic were located on continuous permafrost, while most of the permafrost
settlements in the Fennoscandian Arctic were located in zones of sporadic perma-
frost (Appendix Table 5).
Of all permafrost settlements, 32.6% were coastal, where 1,099,186 inhabitants
resided (Table 2). The majority of the coastal inhabitants were living in zones of
sporadic permafrost, whereas 10% were living in zones of continuous permafrost.
In Greenland, all settlements were coastal. In Canada and Alaska, almost half of
the permafrost settlements were along the coastline, all located on continuous
permafrost. In the Russian Arctic, permafrost settlements were mostly situated
inland on continuous permafrost, except for the Nenets region, where all perma-
frost settlements were coastal, in zones of sporadic permafrost.
Table 2 Number of permafrost settlements and inhabitants by permafrost type in the Arctic Circumpolar
Permafrost Region in 2017. Coastal settlements and population are included in the numbers of permafrost
settlements and population
Settlements on
Population on
Coastal settlements
on permafrost
Coastal population
on permafrost
Sporadic 511 3,286,723 205 876,896
Discontinuous 162 733,485 79 108,896
Continuous 489 922,477 95 113,394
Total 1162 4,942,685 379 1,099,186
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Population impacted by the loss of permafrost
The number of people living on permafrost in the ACPR is expected to decrease, from
4.9 million in 2017 to 1.7 million in 2050. This means that 3.3 million people in the
ACPR live in settlements where permafrost will degrade and ultimately disappear by
2050 (Table 3). The area with the largest population on permafrost by 2050 will remain
the Russian Arctic (Khanty-Mansi, Sakha Republic, Murmansk, and Yamalo-Nenets).
In 2050, 1.7 million people will live in 628 permafrost settlements (Table 3).
Although there were only few settlements located in areas with permafrost in Sweden,
Finland, and Iceland, by 2050 there will no longer be any permafrost settlements in
these countries (Fig. 2, Appendix Table 6).
Damage caused by permafrost thaw in permafrost settlements will differ depending
on the permafrosts vulnerability to thawing, as summarized by the hazard zones.
Among the settlements remaining on permafrost in 2050, 41.7% (RCP 4.5) will be in
high hazard zones, where the consequences of permafrost thaw will be most severe
(Table 3). This will mainly affect settlements in the Russian Arctic and in Alaska
(Fig. 2,AppendixTable7). By contrast, 20.9% (RCP 4.5) of the settlements remaining
on permafrost in 2050 will be least impacted by permafrost thaw, mainly in Greenland
and Canada. While 43.0% (RCP 4.5) of the permafrost inhabitants will live in low
hazard zones, 32.0% will be in high hazard zones, where permafrost is likely to be
extremely degraded. In comparison to inland settlements, a larger proportion of coastal
settlements will become permafrost-free by 2050, although fewer of these coastal
settlements will be in high hazard zones (Table 3). By 2050, 323,362 people will live
in a coastal permafrost settlement, 42.7% of them in a high hazard zone (Table 3).
Almost all the population currently living in areas of sporadic permafrost in the
ACPR will be living in permafrost-free areas (Table 4). More than half of the
population currently living in areas of discontinuous or continuous permafrost will be
living in medium and high hazard zones (Table 4).
Largest settlements impacted by the loss of permafrost
Most of the permafrost settlements in the ACPR were small, with a median size of 622
inhabitants. However, there were 123 permafrost settlements with more than 5000
inhabitants in 2017. These large settlements had a median population of 12,696 (min =
5024, max = 360,590), and a total of 4 million inhabitants. Eighty-five percent of the
large permafrost settlements were in the Russian Arctic. The population in the large
settlements is projected to increase by 3.5% by 2050. In total, 65.8% of these large
settlements were in zones of sporadic permafrost, while 34.1% were in zones of
discontinuous and continuous permafrost.
Surgut, Yakutsk, Murmansk, Nizhnevartovsk, and Norilsk are the five largest
settlements in the Russian Arctic that will have to adapt to the loss of permafrost. In
2017, 1.4 million people lived in these five settlements, where the population is
projected to increase by 3.9%. Surgut, Murmansk, and Nizhnevartovsk are in the
sporadic and discontinuous permafrost zones. While it is not possible to determine
from the permafrost maps utilized in this study to what extent the settled areas are
currently underlain by permafrost, the regions around the settlements will become
permafrost-free by 2050. Yakutsk and Norilsk are located on continuous permafrost
28 Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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Table 3 Projected number of permafrost settlements and population by 2050 using three Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs 2.6; 4.5; and 8.5) and hazard zone scenarios.
Coastal settlements and population are included in the numbers of permafrost settlements and population
Permafrost settlements Population on permafrost Coastal permafrost settlements Coastal population on permafrost
RCP 2.6 RCP 4.5 RCP 8.5 RCP 2.6 RCP 4.5 RCP 8.5 RCP 2.6 RCP 4.5 RCP 8.5 RCP 2.6 RCP 4.5 RCP 8.5
Low hazard zone 144 131 106 730,048 711,333 481,123 59 56 44 119,438 108,835 70,101
Medium Hazard zone 245 235 239 408,550 414,219 617,118 56 56 59 67,638 76,498 100,483
High Hazard zone 239 262 283 516,692 529,738 557,049 39 42 51 136,286 138,029 152,778
Total 628 1,655,290 154 323,362
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and will be more affected by permafrost thaw, although they will be in low hazard
zones. Yellowknife in Canada is the largest settlement on permafrost in the Canadian
Arctic. Its population of 19,596 in 2017 is expected to grow by 20.5% by 2050.
Yellowknife is located on discontinuous permafrost, and will be in a high hazard zone
by 2050.
Due to permafrost thaw, 65.0% of the large settlements of the ACPR will become
permafrost-free by 2050 (RCP 4.5), and their 3 million inhabitants will have to contend
with changes related to the loss of permafrost. Among the 43 large settlements that will
remain on permafrost by 2050, 20 are in high hazard zones, where the consequences of
Fig. 2 Settlements at risk due to permafrost thaw by 2060
30 Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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permafrost thaw will be the most profound. Of these 20 settlements, 19 are in the
Russian Arctic and one is in Canada.
Variability in the impacts depending on the climate trajectory
The results we describe consider a mitigation emission scenario (RCP 4.5), suggesting
a stabilization of atmospheric concentrations near 2060 to 4.5 W/m2(or 650 ppm CO2
equivalent). Following a business as usualscenario (RCP 8.5), the consequences of
permafrost thaw on permafrost settlements and population will be worse. In such a
scenario, the number of permafrost settlements that will be in high hazard zones by
2050 will be 8% higher and the permafrost population 5% higher (Table 3). The
consequences for coastal settlements will be more severe, with a 21% increase in the
number of permafrost settlements in high hazard zones and an 11% increase in
permafrost population in these zones. The consequences of permafrost thaw on per-
mafrost settlements and population will be reduced if greenhouse gases emissions are
low and atmospheric concentrations stabilize earlier (RCP 2.6). The number of perma-
frost settlements located in high hazard zones will be 10% lower, and the permafrost
population will fall by 3% (Table 3).
Adaptation to permafrost-free environment
We show that close to 3.3 million people living in the ACPR will be affected by the
thawingand eventual lossof permafrost. Three percent of the settlements that are
currently located on continuous permafrost will become permafrost-free, meaning that
the settlements will have to face the costs of rebuilding and renovating public and
private infrastructure damaged by permafrost thaw. The majority of permafrost inhab-
itants (3.1 million) live in zones of sporadic permafrost. While almost all of the people
living in zones of sporadic permafrost will live in a permafrost-free area in 2050, the
costs related to permafrost thaw in these settlements might not be as high if they are not
directly located on permafrost. However, people living on sporadic permafrost will be
impacted by the changes affecting the permafrost ecosystems surrounding their settle-
ments, which will trigger transitions in socio-ecological systems (Schuur and Mack
Table 4 Proportion of the population within type of permafrost area that will be affected by permafrost thaw
by 2050 (RCP 4.5)
type 2017
Proportion of the population affected by permafrost thaw by 2050 (%)
Low hazard
Medium hazard
High hazard
Sporadic 3,286,723 95,6 0,7 0,3 3,5
Discontinuous 733,485 12,8 38,9 24,8 23,5
Continuous 922,477 3,3 43,9 25,2 27,7
31Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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2018). By contrast, settlements in discontinuous or continuous permafrost zones that
will be in high hazard zones in 2050 will face significant costs associated with adapting
to permafrost thaw. Damage to infrastructure due to permafrost thaw is caused by both
ground subsidence and a decrease in the grounds bearing capacity, leading to cracks,
deformations, and the collapse of built structures (Streletskiy et al. 2012,2019). This
impacts the useful life of infrastructure, reducing it by 0.2% in sporadic permafrost and
by 0.9% in continuous permafrost per °C increase (Larsen et al. 2008). In the Russian
Arctic, the most significant reduction in bearing capacity is expected in the discontin-
uous and southern fringes of continuous permafrost zones (Shiklomanov et al. 2017a),
in which we calculate that 472 settlements and 1.5 million people are located.
Adaptation in settlements remaining on permafrost
For the settlements remaining on permafrost, the consequences of permafrost thaw will vary
depending on the hazard zone on which they are located. In 2050, half a million inhabitants
on permafrost will live in high hazard zones, where the consequences of permafrost thaw
will be most severe, mainly in the Russian Arctic and in Alaska. These areas are in thaw-
unstable zones characterized by relatively high ground-ice content and thick deposits of
frost-susceptible sediments (Hjort et al. 2018). By contrast, permafrost thaw will be a minor
concern for slightly more than 700,000 permafrost inhabitants who will live in low hazard
zones, mostly in Greenland and in Canada, where a large number of people currently live in
settlements built on bedrock.
Adaptation in coastal permafrost settlements
We show that coastal settlements are proportionally more exposed to permafrost thaw than
inland settlements. Flooding and coastal erosion are major risks for many of these settle-
ments, threatening the viability of some settlements, damaging important cultural heritage
sites, and compromising municipal infrastructure and water supply (Nelson et al. 2001;
Shiklomanov et al. 2017b;Warrenetal.2005). Coastal settlements will suffer from both
ground subsidence and coastal erosion. While ground subsidence is a parameter included in
the permafrost projection model (Hjort et al. 2018), coastal erosion is not. Along the Arctic
coast, coastal erosion rates average 0.5 m a1, with high geographic variability (Lantuit et al.
2012). Coastal erosion is a real threat for the 379 coastal settlements on permafrost and their
1 million inhabitants. Several communities have already been forced to relocate, while
others have just left vulnerable settlements (Bronen 2010; Hamilton et al. 2016). However,
the settlements most threatened by erosion in Alaska do not yet show any evidence of
increased outmigration (Hamilton et al. 2018).
Adaptation capacity
Settlements in the ACPR differ considerably in terms of both population size and physical
ground conditions. Despite their differences in terms of population size, infrastructure, and
economy (Hamilton et al. 2018), Arctic settlements face similar challenges related to the loss
of permafrost. The impacts mainly relate to damage to infrastructure and changes in the
livelihoods of people living on permafrost. These impacts might have significant conse-
quences on the future economic and social development of the Arctic (Streletskiy et al.
32 Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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2012). Adaptation capacity to permafrost-free environments will vary depending on the type
of permafrost and potential hazard zone on which the settlements are currently located, as
well as the settlementssize and economic situation. Larger settlements located in high
hazard zones related to permafrost thaw are mostly located in the Russian Arctic, and in
some ACPR regions with the strongest economies (as measured by the Growth Regional
Product (GRP)). The economic situation in these regions may help to offset some mitigation
costs (Suter et al. 2019). However, some regions with large settlements and weaker
economies located in high hazard zones will incur high annual costs to address damages
related to permafrost thaw. This is the case for the Northwest Territories in Canada, where
the annual costs might be as high as 1.5% of GRP (Suter et al. 2019).
This is the first demographic study assessing the population living on permafrost and
the impact of permafrost thaw on the population living in the Arctic Circumpolar
Permafrost Region. In 2017, close to five million inhabitants lived in 1162 permafrost
settlements in the ACPR. As a result of permafrost thaw, many of these inhabitants will
live in permafrost-free areas by 2050. The total number of inhabitants on permafrost is
projected to decrease by 61.2%from 4.9 million to 1.7 million by 2050. Permafrost
will degrade and ultimately disappear in 534 permafrost settlements, impacting the life
of 3.3 million inhabitants. Settlements remaining on permafrost by 2050 will also have
to adapt to permafrost thaw, as 42% of them will be located in high hazard zones. The
impacts will vary depending on the future climate trajectory, the permafrost type and
hazard zones in which settlements are located, and the extent to which settlements can
adapt in the remaining time before the permafrost thaws.
The data used is listed in the references, tables, supporting information, and the
ZENODO repository (Wang and Ramage
Appendix 1
Table 5 Number of settlements within each permafrost extent zone per country in 2017
Alaska Canada Finland Greenland Iceland Norway Russia Sweden
Sporadic 123 45 21 34 4 20 241 23
Discontinuous 50 19 0 22 0 0 71 0
Continuous 19 44 0 23 0 2 401 0
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Appendix 2
Table 6 Number of settlements and people in the permafrost zone of the ACPR per region in 2017 and by
Country Region Settlements
Alaska All ACPR regions 192 169,481 77 29,173
Bethel 32 17,985 0 0
Bristol Bay 1 309 0 0
Denali 4 1574 2 182
Dillingham 9 3982 0 0
Fairbanks North Star 17 96,665 2 3182
Haines 1 265 0 0
Kusilvak CA (Wade
13 8180 0 0
Lake and Peninsula 2 146 0 0
Matanuska-Susitna 3 307 2 525
Nome 20 10,798 10 8743
North Slope 8 8745 6 2534
Northwest Arctic 11 7374 11 9118
Southeast Fairbanks 19 6520 14 2495
Valdez-Cordova 15 1557 7 258
Yukon-Koyukuk 37 5074 23 2136
Canada All ACPR regions 108 155,714 59 102,725
Newfoundland and Labrador 9 21,432 0 0
Northwest Territories 33 41,425 19 34,051
Nunavut 24 34,944 17 44,746
Quebec 22 26,607 13 18,693
Yukon 20 31,306 10 5235
Finland All ACPR regions 21 76,536 0 0
Lappi 21 76,536 0 0
Greenland All ACPR regions 79 54,257 17 12,554
Aasiaat 1 3112 0 0
Ammasalik 6 2930 1 184
Illoqqortoormiut 2 380 1 5
Ilulissat 5 4908 2 4179
Ivittuut 1 1 0 0
Kangaatsiaq 5 1182 1 242
Maniitsoq 4 3143 0 0
Nanortalik 6 283 0 0
Narsaq 6 1674 0 0
Nuuk 4 17,851 1 3
Paamiut 2 1530 0 0
Qaanaaq 4 755 2 621
34 Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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Table 6 (continued)
Country Region Settlements
Qaqortoq 4 3273 0 0
Qasigiannguit 2 1183 0 0
Qeqertarsuaq 2 876 0 0
Sisimiut 4 6096 2 5356
Uden for Kommunal Inddel 2 96 1 82
Upernavik 11 2748 2 393
Uummannaq 8 2236 4 1489
Iceland All ACPR regions 4 1570 0 0
Iceland 4 1570 0 0
Norway All ACPR regions 23 43,973 5 7138
Finnmark 15 38,637 1 2013
Svalbard (incl. Barentsburg) 3 3044 3 4818
Troms 5 2292 1 307
All ACPR regions 712 4,390,905 470 1,503,700
Arhangelskaja oblast 1 2405 1 1985
Autonomous Nenets 20 43,937 5 3088
Chukotsk 28 47,038 20 55,631
Hanty-Mancijskij (Jugra) 96 1,638,880 0 0
Kamchatskij Kraj 5 13,203 0 0
Komi 6 79,593 6 61,825
Koryak Okrug 22 13,447 8 3076
Krasnoyarsk 29 207,945 16 176,162
Magadan Oblast 22 139,308 20 33,783
Murmansk 33 701,683 0 0
Saha (Jakutija) 398 937,160 364 846,800
Sakha (Yakutia) 1 1089 1 1078
Taymur 4 30,717 3 27,631
Yamalo-Nenets 47 534,500 26 292,641
Sweden All ACPR regions 23 50,249 0 0
Norrbotten 23 50,249 0 0
35Population and Environment (2021) 43:22–38
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Appendix 3
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... Generally, social vulnerability assessments are rare in Russia and post-Soviet countries. For example, Ramage et al. (2021) present the first assessment of population in the Arctic permafrost area including the Russian North and forecast its demographic changes. ...
Full-text available
A disaster community's priority is to ensure the safety of populations during natural hazards. Disaster risk reduction strategies require knowledge of what is hazardous, who is vulnerable, and what is risky. As of now, engineering methods predominate in Russian disaster research, while social science rarely analyzes floods, earthquakes, wildfires, etc. Study aims to test the applicability of new methods for delineating flood hazards, characterizing social vulnerability, and determining overall societal risk in Russia. Multidisciplinary nature makes the problem complex. The research will concentrate on the ten representative counties of the Kuban River basin in a southern Russian region, where at the beginning of the XXI century catastrophic floods led to enormous fatalities and huge economic damage. Flood hazards are assessed based on the county-scale spatial distribution of records produced by a Regional Early Warning System, impact information, and flood management infrastructure. Social vulnerability is investigated using a County Comparable Social Vulnerability Profiling model that encompasses three pillars (physical, socio-economic and awareness), nine themes (age, disability, poverty, etc.), and seventeen census variables (aged 0–19 years, density, one-person household in detached housing, only nine years of school, etc.). Finally, a holistic flood risk map is compiled. The results show that the three riskiest counties require measures to reduce flood hazard and social vulnerability in all phases of disaster risk management (mitigation, preparation, emergency, and rehabilitation). Data-poor nations such as Russia can benefit from these methods, but their use is limited by insufficient flood hazard and census information.
... In the Arctic, while most of the population is in urban communities and industrial centers, frozen infrastructures are integral parts of the daily lives, mobilities, livelihoods, and worldviews of Indigenous communities (Krupnik and Jolly 2002;Aporta 2004;Cruikshank 2005;Kuklina et al. 2021). Over a thousand settlements, housing approximately 5 million people in the Arctic regions, depend on the stability of permafrost (Ramage et al. 2021). Lake and river ice provides seasonal transportation and infrastructure for isolated communities, remote industrial development, and trail access to hunting, fishing, herding and trapping areas, thereby supporting traditional subsistence-based livelihoods (e.g., Vuglinsky et al. 2002;Prowse et al. 2011). ...
... Colder places are projected to become more habitable (Extended Data Fig. 9) but are not where population growth is concentrated. Nor do we consider exposure to other sources of climate harm there (or elsewhere), including sea-level rise 30,31 , increasing climate extremes 58 and permafrost thaw 59 . Overall, our results illustrate the huge potential human cost and the great inequity of climate change, informing discussions of loss and damage 60,61 . ...
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The costs of climate change are often estimated in monetary terms, but this raises ethical issues. Here we express them in terms of numbers of people left outside the ‘human climate niche’—defined as the historically highly conserved distribution of relative human population density with respect to mean annual temperature. We show that climate change has already put ~9% of people (>600 million) outside this niche. By end-of-century (2080–2100), current policies leading to around 2.7 °C global warming could leave one-third (22–39%) of people outside the niche. Reducing global warming from 2.7 to 1.5 °C results in a ~5-fold decrease in the population exposed to unprecedented heat (mean annual temperature ≥29 °C). The lifetime emissions of ~3.5 global average citizens today (or ~1.2 average US citizens) expose one future person to unprecedented heat by end-of-century. That person comes from a place where emissions today are around half of the global average. These results highlight the need for more decisive policy action to limit the human costs and inequities of climate change.
... Approximately 65% of Russia's land surface is underlain by permafrost ( Fig. 2) (Ershov 1998), and nearly 90% of the global population living on arctic permafrost reside in the country (Ramage et al. 2021). Russian permafrost regions have a long history of permafrost encounters that have resulted in a number of trial-and-error approaches to design and construction on permafrost (Shiklomanov 2005). ...
The Arctic is rapidly warming posing a significant threat to underlying permafrost. Permafrost degradation has already resulted in extensive damage to the Arctic's built infrastructure, putting communities and industries at risk. Projected climate warming will further reduce the capacity of permafrost to support infrastructure, thereby requiring a rethinking of construction and development of permafrost regions in the future. This paper focuses on three Arctic regions with a substantial presence of population and infrastructure on permafrost: USA (Alaska), Canada, and Russia. The three regions' permafrost construction practices are examined in order to identify best practices and major gaps. We identify a lack of standardized, codified construction guidelines; an absence of permafrost-geotechnical monitoring in communities; barriers to integrating climate scenarios into future planning; limited data sharing; and low numbers of permafrost professionals as major constraints limiting the region's resilience in the face of climate change. Refining building practices and standards, implementing operational permafrost monitoring systems, developing downscaled climate projections, and integrating local knowledge will minimize the impacts of permafrost degradation under rapidly warming climatic conditions.
... Permafrost conditions have a strong influence on the regional moisture flow through the vadose zone and groundwater dynamics [1][2][3][4]. The development, distribution, and evolution of permafrost are significantly impacted by soil moisture, notably by heat convection and advection along flow trajectories via influencing surface runoff [1,5,6]. ...
Full-text available
The transfer of water and energy fluxes between the ground and the atmosphere is influenced by soil moisture (SM), which is an important factor in land surface dynamics. Accurate representation of SM over permafrost-affected regions remains challenging. Leveraging blended SM from microwave satellites, this study examines the potential for satellite SM assimilation to enhance LSM (Land Surface Model) seasonal dynamics. The Ensemble Kalman Filter (EnKF) is used to integrate SM data across the Iya River Basin, Russia. Considering the permafrost, only the summer months (June to August) are utilized for assimilation. Field data from two sites are used to validate the study’s findings. Results show that assimilation lowers the dry bias in Noah LSM by up to 6%, which is especially noticeable in the northern regions of the Iya Basin. Comparison with in situ station data demonstrates a considerable improvement in correlation between SM after assimilation (0.94) and before assimilation (0.84). The findings also reveal a significant relationship between SM and surface energy balance.
... Satellites have monitored human-induced changes and effects since the 1960s. There are several important issues for satellites to follow up on, namely, coastal erosion [61], the stability of settlements on the permafrost [171,172], and monitoring of the environmental pollution [173]. ...
Full-text available
Citation: Esau, I.; Pettersson, L.H.; Cancet, M.; Chapron, B.; Chernokulsky, A.; Donlon, C.; Sizov, O.; Soromotin, A.; Johannesen, J.A. Abstract: Arctic climate change has already resulted in amplified and accelerated regional warming, or the Arctic amplification. Satellite observations have captured this climate phenomenon in its development and in sufficient spatial details. As such, these observations have been-and still are-indispensable for monitoring of the amplification in this remote and inhospitable region, which is sparsely covered with ground observations. This study synthesizes the key contributions of satellite observations into an understanding and characterization of the amplification. The study reveals that the satellites were able to capture a number of important environmental transitions in the region that both precede and follow the emergence of the apparent amplification. Among those transitions, we find a rapid decline in the multiyear sea ice and subsequent changes in the surface radiation balance. Satellites have witnessed the impact of the amplification on phytoplankton and vegetation productivity as well as on human activity and infrastructure. Satellite missions of the European Space Agency (ESA) are increasingly contributing to amplification monitoring and assessment. The ESA Climate Change Initiative has become an essential provider of long-term climatic-quality remote-sensing data products for essential climate variables. Still, such synthesis has found that additional efforts are needed to improve cross-sensor calibrations and retrieval algorithms and to reduce uncertainties. As the amplification is set to continue into the 21st century, a new generation of satellite instruments with improved revisiting time and spectral and spatial resolutions are in high demand in both research and stakeholders' communities.
... Some four million indigenous Arctic peoples (approximately 10% of the region's population) have been and continue to be active guardians of this vast territory and its natural resources and environment [22]. As a result of the impact of climate change, the livelihood, welfare, and health of indigenous peoples has been seriously affected (SDG 13). ...
Full-text available
Due to the local and natural characteristics of high latitude and altitude in the Three Polar Region (TPR)—that is, the Antarctic, the Arctic, and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP)—this region has been significantly affected by climate change and related disasters. Thus, the sustainable development pathway for the TPR is different from that of other regions. The Antarctic region, as a public territory, experiences sustainability problems that are mainly the result of the integrated impact of tourism and scientific and commercial fishing activities on the continent and ocean. Understanding how to build a shared, co-built, and co-governed, legally binding and equal international multilateral partnership or treaty, and thereby reducing the impact on water life and on land life, is the key pathway to achieving the Antarctic sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Arctic region has both a high level of development at the national level and a low level of development within the country, including the livelihood of indigenous people. Learning how to effectively deal with the domestic development imbalance in the future is a key pathway to achieving Arctic SDGs. The QTP has a fragile ecology and a single industry. As a relatively poor area in China, the ability to promote ecological protection and improve people’s welfare through ecological policies is a key pathway to achieving the SDGs in the QTP. At the same time, the TPR also needs to enhance its climate resilience through climate action to mitigate the impacts of climate change. On this basis, to fully achieve the SDGs in support of the TPR, it is necessary to establish and pursue multilateral cooperation in science research, infrastructure, commerce, energy, and mining trades. As an important part of the climate system, spatial and temporal changes in the TPR have direct and indirect impacts on the global climate and other spheres (e.g., Anthroposphere) and also affect the global sustainable development process. Therefore, through the TPR’s linkage and multilateral cooperation, the region can simultaneously enter the global sustainable development track.
... Land use across the Arctic has been expanding continuously specifically related to the oil and gas industry and mining during the last two decades (Bartsch et al 2021). One fifth of all settlements installed on permafrost across the Arctic, i.e. one million people, are located in coastal areas (Ramage et al 2021) and 15% of all human impacted areas within a 100 km buffer from the Arctic permafrost affected coastline are new (Bartsch et al 2021). This not only impacts the local natural environment but also increases the amount of infrastructure potentially at risk due to permafrost thaw. ...
Full-text available
In order to support climate change adaptation in the communities of Nunavik, an innovative multi-technique approach to map permafrost conditions and assess risks of geohazards at the community-scale level was applied. Four maps were produced for each community: 1- a surficial geology map, 2- a map of permafrost conditions based on ground-ice content and depth to bedrock, 3- a map of potential for construction and 4- a geohazard risk assessment map. Local ground temperature data from thermistor cables were used to calibrate one-dimensional numerical models to estimate future permafrost temperature changes and probable rates of degradation in different environmental settings within the communities and under different climate change scenarios for the 2019-2100 period. Throughout this project, abundant consultations were held in communities and with stakeholders to better understand their concerns and to provide pragmatic recommendations for improving construction methods and land-use planning to face the challenges of permafrost thaw. Specific recommendations were made to the higher levels of government for improving construction practices. Inuit aspirations, culture and leadership remain keys in how to integrate permafrost geotechnical knowledge in planning a safe future for the communities.
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Greenland’s residents and Ice Sheet are both exposed to pronounced Arctic warming. Although Greenland is a hub for climate science, the climate perceptions of Greenland’s predominantly Indigenous population remained unstudied through the past decade of multi-national climate opinion polls. Conducting two original nationally representative surveys, here we show that Greenlanders are more likely than residents of top oil-producing Arctic countries to perceive that climate change is happening, and about twice as likely to have personally experienced its effects. However, half are unaware that climate change is human-caused, and those who are most affected appear to be least aware. An Inuit cultural dimension, indicated by the intertwined social ecological factors of Indigenous identity, subsistence occupation, village community scale and no post-elementary education, proves to be the main positive predictor of climate change experience but also the strongest negative predictor of awareness of human-caused climate change. Despite Greenland’s centrality to climate research, we uncover a widespread gap between the scientific consensus and coastal Kalaallit views of climate change, particularly among the country’s youth, fishers, and hunters. This science-society gulf has immediate and prospective implications for local climate adaptation, climate science communication and knowledge exchange between generations, institutions, and communities.
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The Arctic is experiencing pronounced climatic and environmental changes. These changes pose a risk to infrastructure, impacting the accessibility and development of remote locations and adding additional pressures on local and regional budgets. This study estimates the costs of fixed infrastructure affected by climate change impacts in the Arctic region, specifically on the impacts of permafrost thaw. Geotechnical models are forced by climate data from six CMIP5 models and used to evaluate changes in permafrost geotechnical characteristics between the decades of 2050–2059 and 2006–2015 under the RCP8.5 scenario. Country-specific infrastructure costs are used to estimate the value of infrastructure affected. The results show a 27% increase in infrastructure lifecycle replacement costs across the circumpolar permafrost regions. In addition, more than 14% of total fixed infrastructure assets are at risk of damages due to changes in specific environmental stressors, such as loss of permafrost bearing capacity and thaw subsidence due to ground ice melt. Regions of Northern Canada and Western Siberia are projected to be particularly affected and may require additional annual spending in the excess of 1% of annual GRP to support existing infrastructure into the future.
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Permafrost is a key element of the cryosphere and an essential climate variable in the Global Climate Observing System. There is no remote-sensing method available to reliably monitor the permafrost thermal state. To estimate permafrost distribution at a hemispheric scale, we employ an equilibrium state model for the temperature at the top of the permafrost (TTOP model) for the 2000–2016 period, driven by remotely-sensed land surface temperatures, down-scaled ERA-Interim climate reanalysis data, tundra wetness classes and landcover map from the ESA Landcover Climate Change Initiative (CCI) project. Subgrid variability of ground temperatures due to snow and landcover variability is represented in the model using subpixel statistics. The results are validated against borehole measurements and reviewed regionally. The accuracy of the modelled mean annual ground temperature (MAGT) at the top of the permafrost is ± 2 °C when compared to permafrost borehole data. The modelled permafrost area (MAGT < 0 °C) covers 13.9 × 106 km2 (ca. 15% of the exposed land area), which is within the range or slightly below the average of previous estimates. The sum of all pixels having isolated patches, sporadic, discontinuous or continuous permafrost (permafrost probability > 0) is around 21 × 106 km2 (22% of exposed land area), which is approximately 2 × 106 km2 less than estimated previously. Detailed comparisons at a regional scale show that the model performs well in sparsely vegetated tundra regions and mountains, but is less accurate in densely vegetated boreal spruce and larch forests.
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Russian regions containing permafrost play an important role in the Russian economy, containing vast reserves of natural resources and hosting large-scale infrastructure to facilitate these resources' exploitation. Rapidly changing climatic conditions are a major concern for the future economic development of these regions. This study examines the extent to which infrastructure and housing are affected by permafrost in Russia and estimates the associated value of these assets. An ensemble of climate projections is used as a forcing to a permafrost-geotechnical model, in order to estimate the cost of buildings and infrastructure affected by permafrost degradation by mid-21st century under RCP 8.5 scenario. The total value of fixed assets on permafrost was estimated at 248.6 bln USD. Projected climatic changes will affect 20% of structures and 19% of infrastructure assets, costing 16.7 bln USD and 67.7 bln USD respectively to mitigate. The total cost of residential real estate on permafrost was estimated at 52.6 bln USD, with 54% buildings affected by significant permafrost degradation by the mid-21st century. The paper discusses the variability in climate-change projections and the ability of Russia's administrative regions containing permafrost to cope with projected climate-change impacts. The study can be used in land use planning and to promote the development of adaptation and mitigation strategies for addressing the climate-change impacts of permafrost degradation on infrastructure and housing.
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Permafrost warming has the potential to amplify global climate change, because when frozen sediments thaw it unlocks soil organic carbon. Yet to date, no globally consistent assessment of permafrost temperature change has been compiled. Here we use a global data set of permafrost temperature time series from the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost to evaluate temperature change across permafrost regions for the period since the International Polar Year (2007–2009). During the reference decade between 2007 and 2016, ground temperature near the depth of zero annual amplitude in the continuous permafrost zone increased by 0.39 ± 0.15 °C. Over the same period, discontinuous permafrost warmed by 0.20 ± 0.10 °C. Permafrost in mountains warmed by 0.19 ± 0.05 °C and in Antarctica by 0.37 ± 0.10 °C. Globally, permafrost temperature increased by 0.29 ± 0.12 °C. The observed trend follows the Arctic amplification of air temperature increase in the Northern Hemisphere. In the discontinuous zone, however, ground warming occurred due to increased snow thickness while air temperature remained statistically unchanged.
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Degradation of near-surface permafrost can pose a serious threat to the utilization of natural resources, and to the sustainable development of Arctic communities. Here we identify at unprecedentedly high spatial resolution infrastructure hazard areas in the Northern Hemi- sphere’s permafrost regions under projected climatic changes and quantify fundamental engineering structures at risk by 2050. We show that nearly four million people and 70% of current infrastructure in the permafrost domain are in areas with high potential for thaw of near-surface permafrost. Our results demonstrate that one-third of pan-Arctic infrastructure and 45% of the hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic are in regions where thaw-related ground instability can cause severe damage to the built environment. Alarmingly, these figures are not reduced substantially even if the climate change targets of the Paris Agreement are reached.
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Arctic societies, like Arctic environments, exhibit variability and rapid change. Social and environmental changes are sometimes interconnected, but Arctic societies also are buffeted by socioeconomic forces which can create problems or drive changes that eclipse those with environmental roots. Social indicators research offers a general approach for describing change and understanding causality through the use of numerical indices of population, health, education, and other key dimensions that can be compared across places and times. Here we illustrate such work with new analyses of demographic indicators, particularly involving migration, for contemporary communities of three predominantly Inuit Arctic regions: northern Alaska, Greenland, and Nunavut. Many places exhibit persistent outmigration, affecting population growth. Net migration and growth rates are not significantly different, however, comparing northern Alaska communities that are or are not threatened by climate-linked erosion. Stepping back to compare the three regions highlights their contrasting birth rates (high in northern Alaska and Nunavut) and outmigration (high in Alaska and Greenland) - yielding divergent population trajectories of gradual decline in Greenland, erratic but slow growth in Alaska, and rapid growth in Nunavut. Evidence for one consequential pattern observed in northern Alaska and Greenland, disproportionate outmigration by locally-born women, appears weak or absent in Nunavut.
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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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The Arctic region is composed of unique marine and terrestrial ecosystems that provide a range of services to local and global populations. However, Arctic sea-ice is melting at an unprecedented rate, threatening many of these ecosystems and the services they provide. This short communication provides a preliminary assessment of the quantity, distribution and economic value of key ecosystem services as well as geological resources such as oil and minerals provided by Arctic ecosystems to beneficiaries in the Arctic region and globally. Using biophysical and economic data from existing studies, preliminary estimates indicate that the Arctic currently provides about $281 billion per year (in 2016 US$) in terms of food, mineral extraction, oil production, tourism, hunting, existence values and climate regulation. However, given predictions of ice-free summers by 2037, many of the ecosystem services may be lost. We hope that this communication stimulates discussion among policy-makers regarding the value of ecosystem services and such geological resources as minerals and oil provided by the Arctic region, and the potential ecosystem losses resulting from Arctic melt, so as to motivate decisions vis a vis climate change mitigation before Arctic ice disappears completely.
Projections of the future size, composition, and distribution of the populations of the Arctic states and regions are useful for policy makers in planning. This paper presents and analyzes the most recent population projections done for the Arctic states and regions. Global population growth is projected to continue increasing from the current total of 7.4 billion to 10 billion in 2055. The population of the Arctic, as defined here, is projected to have little change with a projected population increase of just 1%. However, there will be considerable variation in growth rates among Arctic regions. Alaska, Yukon, Nunavut, Iceland, Troms, the Khanty-Mansiy Okrug, and Chukotka are projected to have a substantial population increase of more than 10% over the projection period. Nordland, Finnmark, North Ostrobothnia, and Nenets Autonomous Okrug are projected to have more modest growth of between 5% and 10%. Kainuu in Finland, Karelia, Komi, Arkhangel’sk, Murmansk, and Magadan in Russia are projected to have population declines of more than 5%. Common trends seen in nearly all Arctic regions in the future are aging populations, more balanced gender ratios between men and women, increased population concentration into larger urban settlements, and the depopulation of smaller settlements.
The Arctic may seem remote, but the unprecedented environmental changes occurring there have important consequences for global society. Of all Arctic system components, changes in permafrost (perennially frozen ground) are one of the least documented. Permafrost is degrading as a result of climate warming, and evidence is mounting that changing permafrost will have significant impacts within and outside the region. This review asks: What are key structural and functional properties of ecosystems that interact with changing permafrost, and how do these ecosystem changes affect local and global society? Here, we look beyond the classic definition of permafrost to include a broadened focus on the composition of frozen ground, including the ice and the soil organic carbon content, and how it is changing. This ecological perspective of permafrost serves to identify areas of both vulnerability and resilience as climate, ecological disturbance regimes, and the human footprint all continue to change in this sensitive and critical region of Earth.