Isaac Stone Simonelli is a freelance
journalist and former managing editor for
the Phuket Gazette.
The challenges of construction in the north
will continue to grow with the increasing
effects of climate change.
“The climate has been shown by scientists
to be changing, becoming warmer—a situation
that also has been observed by indigenous
people living continuously in Arctic climates
and deeply attuned to the environment,”
Henricks says. “The planet is getting warmer,
and thus permafrost regions are being impacted
Some structures built over permafrost
decades ago, even elevated on traditional
piles, are failing due to the warming climate,
However, not all degraded structures built
on permafrost are victims of warming; many
have simply outlived their design life, not been
maintained properly, or were not designed
properly, Yarmak points out. Nonetheless,
Yarmak recognizes rapid changes in the Arctic.
“With climate warming, the access road
that was put in thirty years ago may not be
suited for another thirty years of service.
Things change, and they change rapidly
when ice melts because water has no shear
strength. More ponded water in low places
absorbs more heat in summer and adds to the
heat balance,” Yarmak says.
In many places the increased heat is not
enough to shift the balance of the permafrost,
but it will increase the depth of the active layer,
and if there was ice-rich material at the base of
the active layer, there will be surface subsidence.
“That soils investigation that was performed
twenty-five years ago may not be valid for a new
design at the site because of increased ground
temperatures, perhaps the formation of a talik,
or other issues. The active layer is going to be
deeper because of the warmer temperatures,”
Yarmak says, noting that on sloped sites with
an active layer increasing in thickness there is
greater possibility for development of an active
layer detachment slide.
Engineers struggling to get accurate estimates of what the climate will be like in twenty-five to thirty-five years as global warming rapidly increases compounds the issue.
“We can use estimates from the climate
modelers for this, but there is a huge variability
in what the various models say,” Yarmak says.
“Still, it’s better than a crystal ball. And then,
there’s the weather.”
Without a doubt, one way that climate
change will impact Arctic construction is that
it will drive up costs.
“Piles need to be deeper or larger in diameter,
insulation needs to be thicker or over a larger
area, gravel pads and roadways need to be more
robust, and the ice road season for tundra work
will get shorter,” Yarmak says.
However, where there is change there is a
chance for growth, development, and innovation.
“The flip side is that climate change offers
economic opportunity to companies such as
Arctic Foundations,” Henricks points out. R
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