Russians Debunk Permafrost Scam

Published November 1, 2005

Russia’s leading scientists have debunked false claims by environmental activist groups and left-leaning media groups that global climate change is causing significant warming of the Siberian permafrost and resulting in a large-scale release of potent methane gas.

Alarmists Claim Siberian Emergency

“The world’s largest frozen peat bog is melting,” the August 11 issue of New Scientist proclaimed. “An area stretching for a million square kilometers across the permafrost of western Siberia is turning into a mass of shallow lakes as the ground melts.”

“A vast expanse of western Siberia is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming,” the London Guardian asserted on August 11.

“If we don’t take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic, and environmental devastation worldwide,” the Guardian quoted a spokesman for the activist group Friends of the Earth as saying.

“Cranked-up greenhouse gases are taking the perma out of Siberia’s permafrost and turning it to mud,” the September 1 Arkansas Times piled on in an article titled “No Global Warming?”

Scientists Debunk Alarmists

None of those articles mentioned any evidence or quoted any climate experts contradicting the global warming assertions. But plenty of evidence exists.

“The Russian Academy of Sciences has found that the annual temperature of soils (with seasonal variations) has been remaining stable,” reported the August 22 Russian News and Information Agency. “If anything, the depth of seasonal melting has decreased slightly.”

“Unscrupulous scientists are exaggerating and peddling fears about permafrost thawing and swamp methane becoming aggressive,” Professor Nikolai Alexeyevsky, doctor of geography and head of the land hydrology department at Moscow State University, told the Russian News and Information Agency.

“The alarmists’ misrepresentation of the Siberian permafrost is not surprising,” said Pat Michaels, past president of the American Association of State Climatologists and senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “So long as governments hand out billions of dollars each year for climate research, there is no incentive to report the truth. The only sure way to keep receiving climate research funding is to keep claiming impending climate catastrophe.”

Derided as ‘Scare Story’

“This is just another scare story,” added Vladimir Melnikov, director of Russia’s Institute of the Earth’s Cryosphere, the world’s only institute dedicated to investigating the ways in which ground water becomes ice and permafrost. “This ecological structure is balanced and is not about to harm people with gas discharges.”

Melnikov also disputed the claims that rapidly thawing permafrost is causing the formation of small lakes in Siberia. “Scientific findings and experience suggest that small lakes result from irregularities when laying oil and gas pipes and other engineering systems. But the scale on which new formations are appearing is small, and they do not pose any threat.”

“The boundaries of the Russian permafrost zone remain virtually unchanged,” agreed Yuri Izrael, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Climatology and Ecology. “At the same time, the permafrost is several hundred meters deep. For methane, other gases, and hydrates to escape to the surface, it would have to melt at tremendous depths, which is impossible.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.