Arctic climate amplification and Siberia’s burning forests

Usually Arctic amplification is referred to as the reason why the Arctic is warming faster than the earth’s average, as the Arctic’s surface gets darker (due to less sea ice and snow), and the surface absorbs more heat.
What we see currently in Siberia with the burning forests sheds yet another light on how this affects people’s life in the region concretely. Right now in Yakutsk, usually the world’s coldest big city, you can hardly breathe through the smog from the burning forests in Siberia.

In Yakutsk the afternoon sun hardly cuts through the smog, foto 16/07/2021

This seems to be having really bad health consequences for local people. Last night I couldn’t sleep because dry cough kicking in, and the usual option of ‘going out to get some fresh air’ doesn’t work: outside the air is still worse than in any room, as the entire region is full of smoke.
Friends told me last night that they hardly saw any sun for the last three weeks, even when there were no clouds. And in cloudy weather, some of the rain didn’t make it all the way to the ground through the thick smog. So I started reading the local news and was shocked: as of yesterday in the city the heavy particle concentration exceeded the legal maximum 8 times, and so did the nitrogen dioxide concentration. Therefore the authorities recommend not to go out, not do physical exercise, and wear masks with particle filters – good that people got used to wearing masks for the last 1.5 years anyway:( . But what on earth can all our friends do who live in the forests herding their reindeer, horses, cattle in the area? They don’t have houses where they can isolate themselves with air condition behind windows from this ‘fresh’ air. They’ve got to breathe it 24/7. And they will hardly wear masks in their nomadic tents…
One commentary to that news said that recently they measured exceeded limits by 36 times and he wondered how the air got so much cleaner that it’s now ‘only’ 8 times? They must have adjusted the legal limits to make it look less severe, he argues.

One could say ‘yes, forests and land is burning all over the place: last year Australia, every year US, so what’s special about Siberia’s burning land?
I am not an expert, and surely the colleagues from the Yakutsk permafrost institute could say more – but I think the difference to forests in non-Arctic forests is this: here the plants, forests, tundra grow on permafrost ground. Long-term fires heat up that ground even further than usual. Thus, the permafrost thaws even deeper, the active layer gets even bigger. This might amplify the unearthing of all kinds of ingredients, for better or worse: mammoth tusks, anthrax bacteria, methane, and all sorts of stuff. So the forest fires’ impact on the permafrost might be another dimension of the Arctic amplification, with consequences for the entire planet. Maybe the American and Australian forest fires were also pretty bad for the entire planet, but it seems in Siberia that impact on the permafrost is another addition.
Ironically, Yakutia is the world’s only place (as far as I know) where the authorities have passed a law on the protection of the permafrost (22.05.2018 2006-З № 1571-V) . As beautiful as it sounds – what does this help if the forest fires cannot be fought effectively locally? In the local news commentaries, the authorities have been criticized heavily for their disaster response

As of the 17 July noon there are still 134 fires burning in Yakutia. . I have been mostly in the city so far, and even there local people have to pay the local toll for this ecological disaster. Even more so people in villages and in the forest, who depend on the treasures of the land for their traditional livelihood.

Long live the tundra nomads!

Just found out from the local news that in the Novyi Urengoy hospital two Nenets elders survived covid-19 and recovered from pneumonia, at the age of more than 100 years! These elders are so tough! I have also had the honour of meeting quite many people over 100 years old in the tundra particularly during our oral history project, who lived most of their lives with minimal imported stuff: eating mostly meat and fish, bread and tea. Little sugar, being outdoors 24/7 in Yamal, or in the chum, which in terms of fresh air is basically also outdoors:) . This shows that a lifestyle like that is perfectly healthy for the human body, much more so than a life in towns, let alone apartment blocks in skyscrapers… I dedicate this entry to all elders friends I have encountered throughout my field trips since the 1990s, and thank them for their openness, cooperation and their teachings.

Pupta_Pudanasevich_Yamal_2001
Pupta Pudanasevich Yamal, Tambei tundra, spring 2001. He was the ‘father’ of our oral history project, gave the idea for it. He was then over 100 years old, and remembers how Evladov came to visit him the tundra in the 1920s!

Covid-19 arrived in the Yamal tundra

It was probably a matter of time, but I thought until today ‘how great that the tundra is still free of infections’. The reindeer herders strategy of avoiding dangerous places had worked pretty well since March. Using flexibly nomadic movements to avoid dangerous places has been a strategy among the Nenets for centuries, which has worked well to mitigate impacts of all kinds of diseases and disasters of any sort. But now apparently some student brought the virus in, from a dormitory. The person travelled on a helicopter that was bringing Nenets students back to their home nomadic camps for the summer holiday. This means that the other almost 20 passengers of that helicopter have also been in contact.

Continue reading “Covid-19 arrived in the Yamal tundra”

COVID-19 impacts in the Arctic: anthropological research gaps / ideas?

Dear all,
I’m contributing to an expert document on the impacts of COVID-19 in the Arctic. I think it is essential that we highlight research gaps that we notice as anthropologists working in the Arctic. I would like to invite everybody to use the comment function here in this blog to highlight what anthropologists in the Arctic should study relating to the impacts of COVID-19 in the Arctic. It could be that with this we might be able to influence political decisions on this in the future. But actually the question is of interest well beyond that: If you have noticed any important gaps that we should really know but we don’t know yet, please go ahead and write them here as a comment, or, if you feel uncomfortable to go public with your observation / idea, in an email to Florian Stammler at the University of Lapland in Finland. If you want, you can also share some of your impressions how life has changed in COVID-19 times in the part of the Arctic region that you know best. No idea how much is going to come in. But if it is a lot, those of you who are contributing could also think about co-authoring an article in a journal about this. This would be something sort of a “crowd-authored” article, almost like our natural science colleagues, whose articles sometimes get over 30 authors:) Looking forward to your input. Florian

“CCC” – corona, climate change and conspiracy in the Yamal tundra

I have been doing fieldwork with Yamal Nenets reindeer herders for more than 20 years now, and have noticed this year a change in their perception of the changes happening around them, maybe partially reinforced by corona virus.

Be it industrial expansion, the icing-over of pastures, outbreaks of diseases, methane holes in the tundra, the change of a political regime or other disasters – they have always given me the impression of incredible self-confidence that whatever comes, these tough enthusiastic nomadic reindeer herders will manage to face the challenge and continue their life. Continue reading ““CCC” – corona, climate change and conspiracy in the Yamal tundra”

WHO/ВОЗ

1st December: “World Aids Day” Всемирный день борьбы со СПИДом – ВИЧ и коренные народы Севера в России HIV and indigenous peoples in Russia

(English version see bеlow, after the end of the Russian text)

WHO/ВОЗ
picture: WHO/ВОЗ

В связи с этой датой хотелось бы обратить внимание на один аспект эпидемии ВИЧ-инфекции в России, который еще недостаточно изучен и мало известен широкой общественности.  Я и сам относительно недавно узнал о нем.

Как показывают исследования у коренного населения Севера риск заразиться ВИЧ выше, чем у остальных жителей России (см. Буторов 2018, Волова и Родиниа 2016, 2014 Истомин и Мефодьев 2015). Эта инфекция в России встречается гораздо чаще, чем в странах Европы, а среди коренного населения Ямало-Ненецкого и Ханты-Мансийского округов ВИЧ распространяется еще быстрее. Continue reading “1st December: “World Aids Day” Всемирный день борьбы со СПИДом – ВИЧ и коренные народы Севера в России HIV and indigenous peoples in Russia”