Staunton, November 9 – Many Russians are upset that their country lost 4.7 square kilometers last week as a result of Moscow’s handing over of a border parcel to China, but so far at least, they have expressed less anger that their country is losing 100 times as much territory every year to global warming -- and that there is no prospect that this can be stopped.
Dmitry Drozdov, the head of the Institute on the Cryosphere of the Earth of the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that the melting of the permafrost in the north is reducing the size of Russia each year by an amount roughly equal to that of Andorra (tass.ru/sibir-news/2417561).
As a result of global warming, he says, Russia is losing territory in the south as well as in the north, but in the north, this process is having a far greater impact because warming temperatures are melting the ice which forms as much as 80 percent of the volume of coastal land. When it melts, the land simply disappears under the waves.
Consequently, Drozdov continues, it is “senseless” to try to build up the northern coastline in the ways that the authorities have done in the south. And it absolutely necessary to recognize that at least for the foreseeable future, this continuing loss of Russian territory will continue, as the zone of melt is moving northward at the rate of 30 kilometers a year.
The melting of the permafrost will have a cascading effect on both flora and fauna in the region, killing off some species while allowing ones that have never flourished there to grow. Meanwhile, he said, warming temperatures will mean that currently highly productive agricultural lands in Stavropol and Krasnodar are likely to experience water shortages.
At the same time, the center of Russian agriculture will move northward 200 to 300 kilometers, to Voronezh or even Moscow.
Another result of the melting of the permafrost will be the contamination of water with a significant increase in its bacterial content. Purifying that water will be “quite complicated,” the scholar said. But “the most serious consequence” will be the destruction of the coastline and of the surrounding ecology.
Over the last three years, the Russian government has carried out a broad attack on ecological activists, most infamously in the North Caucasus where it has incarcerated Yevgeny Vitishko for his exposure of crimes by officials in the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad. But the authorities have moved against environmentalists in the North.
Drozdov’s comments may have the effect of re-empowering the ecological movement there, something that is certain to spark controversy with Russian oil and gas companies that have run roughshod over laws on the environment and whose own actions have in many cases exacerbated the problems caused by global warming.