The costs of Arctic infrastructure damages due to permafrost degradation

Streletskiy, D.A.,  S. Clemens, J-P. Lanckman, and N.I. Shiklomanov, 2023: The costs of Arctic infrastructure damages due to permafrost degradation. Environmental Research Letters , v.18,


Climate change has adverse impacts on Arctic natural ecosystems and threatens northern communities by disrupting subsistence practices, limiting accessibility, and putting built infrastructure at risk. In this paper, we analyze spatial patterns of permafrost degradation and associated risks to built infrastructure due to loss of bearing capacity and thaw subsidence in permafrost regions of the Arctic. Using a subset of three Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 6 models under SSP245 and 585 scenarios we estimated changes in permafrost bearing capacity and ground subsidence between two reference decades: 2015–2024 and 2055–2064. Using publicly available infrastructure databases we identified roads, railways, airport runways, and buildings at risk of permafrost degradation and estimated country-specific costs associated with damage to infrastructure. The results show that under the SSP245 scenario 29% of roads, 23% of railroads, and 11% of buildings will be affected by permafrost degradation, costing $182 billion to the Arctic states by mid-century. Under the SSP585 scenario, 44% of roads, 34% of railroads, and 17% of buildings will be affected with estimated cost of $276 billion, with airport runways adding an additional $0.5 billion. Russia is expected to have the highest burden of costs, ranging from $115 to $169 billion depending on the scenario. Limiting global greenhouse gas emissions has the potential to significantly decrease the costs of projected damages in Arctic countries, especially in Russia. The approach presented in this study underscores the substantial impacts of climate change on infrastructure and can assist to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies in Arctic states.