University of Oulu

Hjort, J., Streletskiy, D., Doré, G. et al. Impacts of permafrost degradation on infrastructure. Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, 24–38 (2022).

Impacts of permafrost degradation on infrastructure

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Author: Hjort, Jan1; Streletskiy, Dmitry2,3; Doré, Guy4;
Organizations: 1Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Department of Geography, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
3Earth’s Cryosphere Institute, Tyumen Scientific Centre, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, Tyumen, Russia
4Department of Civil Engineering and Water Engineering, Laval University, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
5State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, China
6Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Fairbanks, AK, USA
7Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-10-19


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.

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Series: Nature reviews. Earth & environment
ISSN: 2662-138X
ISSN-E: 2662-138X
ISSN-L: 2662-138X
Volume: 3
Issue: 1
Pages: 24 - 38
DOI: 10.1038/s43017-021-00247-8
Type of Publication: A2 Review article in a scientific journal
Field of Science: 1171 Geosciences
1172 Environmental sciences
1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: J.H. acknowledges funding from the Academy of Finland (Grant 315519), Q.W. from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 41690144), and D.S. from the National Science Foundation (Grants 1545913, 2019691, 2022504, and 1558389). Olli Karjalainen helped with the figures and Oona Könönen with the management of references.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 315519
Detailed Information: 315519 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2022, Springer Nature Limited.