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Friday, June 27, 2008

Global Warming Melts Russia

You might think that, being frozen, a nice warm-up due to global warming would be good for Russia, in contrast to many nations. But the Middle East Times begs to disagree:

Global warming could deal destructive blows to Russia's defense infrastructure over the next 22 years, a top official said in Moscow last week.

Defense infrastructure, including key airfields, oil storage facilities and strategic oil reservoirs, could all be destroyed if the hard permafrost covering the ground year-round across Russia's far north melts by 2030, Russia's First Deputy Emergencies Minister Ruslan Tsalikov told the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, Thursday.

Tsalikov described as a catastrophe the damage that would result from widespread permafrost melting, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Russia's widespread coniferous forests also could be inundated by flooding and unprecedented warmer weather triggered by climate change, Tsalikov said.

"If the annual temperature rises by one or two degrees ... the permafrost could decrease 50 percent," Tsalikov said. The "risk of flooding would also double," he said, according to the RIA Novosti report.

Global warming could also cost Russia its huge supplies of methane gas trapped beneath the permafrost, believed to be almost one third of the entire world's reserves, RIA Novosti said.

The news agency said West Siberia's permafrost was currently disappearing at the rate of 4 centimeters per year. That would cause the permafrost's southern boundaries to retreat by an average of nearly 50 miles across northern Russia over the next 20 years, the report said.

Across the Arctic, levels of sea ice have shrunk by nearly 50 percent from 7.2 million square kilometers in 1979 to 4.3 million square kilometers in 2007, RIA Novosti said.

Tsalikov's warnings mark a significant reversal from previous Russian complacency on the global warming issue. Russian scientists and top officials have readily acknowledged the reality of global warming for years, but they often described it as a welcome process because it freed up for human exploitation and habitation enormous areas of land and Arctic Ocean floor resources that previously have been inaccessible.

Russia also announced it is revising its strategy to concentrate more military resources in the far north to establish and enforce its claims to the vast reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources that it expects will be discovered in the Arctic.

However, Tsalikov's comments reveal that Russian officials now recognize the process will not be cost-free and likely will involve catastrophic damage to existing military assets and infrastructure on an enormous scale.

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