The massive Asian side of Russia is often forgotten, as much of it consists often frigid and uninhabitable Siberian wilderness. But new research finds that our warming planet and its changing climates could make Siberia a more attractive place to live and visit in the next century.
A team of Russian and American researchers looked at a number of computer models that predict how various levels of continued carbon dioxide emissions are expected to raise temperatures for Asian Russia.
“We wanted to learn if future changes in climate may lead to the less-hospitable parts of Asian Russia becoming more habitable for humans,” said lead author Dr. Elena Parfenova, from Russia’s Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Center.
The results have been published in Environmental Research Letters.
The scientists found that under the most extreme scenario, in which humanity basically fails to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere, the region could become much warmer and wetter, particularly in the middle of winter. For example, average temperatures in January could increase by nearly 17 degrees Fahrenheit (9.1 celsius).
That means that parts of Siberia where average January temperatures dip below minus 30 will be warmer but still quite cold. The less extreme parts of the region could move towards weather patterns and conditions that begin to look more like the habitable reaches of Canada. Uninhabited stretches of forest and tundra could be enjoying weather more like Winnipeg’s in a century, and with 140 millimeters more of monthly precipitation.
“Our simulations showed that under (the most extreme scenario) by the 2080s Asian Russia would have a milder climate, with less permafrost coverage, decreasing from the contemporary 65 per cent to 40 per cent of the area by the 2080s,” Parfenova explained.
All these changes could increase the area’s capacity to support human habitation five-fold, according to the study.
“Previous human migrations have been associated with climate change. As civilizations developed technology that enabled them to adapt, humans became less reliant on the environment, particularly in terms of climate,” Parfenova says. “Asian Russia is currently extremely cold. In a future warmer climate, food security in terms of crop distribution and production capability is likely to become more favorable for people to support settlements.”
She also points out that a warm climate is just one part of making a region more habitable. Asian Russian would also need plenty of work in terms of creating the infrastructure to support a larger population.
Other northern locales are already dealing with similar questions as they are transformed by climate change. Greenland’s ice cap is melting and making it finally begin to live up to its name a little bit more. The result is an increased threat of flooding, but also an opportunity to court more tourists as previously covered natural and archaeological treasures are being revealed, perhaps for the first time in millennia.