Improving exploitation of vitally important river ice crossings and roads on frozen ground in a changing climate.

Observed and projected climate change alters transport schemes in East Siberia. Navigation season is affected by shifts of river freezing and breaking up dates and roads on land are damaged by thawing of frozen ground. Current changes and future projections of road stability, operational period of ice crossing and ferry at the main transport hub in Yakutia will be assessed for the need of local stakeholders operating local roads.


Issue to be addressed

Rivers are the most important transportation routes in many parts of Siberia due to the absence of railway, bridges and the limited number of roads on land. Many remote settlements and industrial facilities critically depend on delivery by winter and ice roads, that exist only for a limited period from December-January to April. Up to 90% of goods are brought in by trucks during that short winter time. Due to  global warming, mean annual air temperature in Yakutsk has increased from -10.4 °C (1951-1978) to -8.7 °C (1979-2012). As a consequence, roads on frozen ground are prone to risks of subsidence and structural weakening as permafrost thaws.  Reduced winter ice road access and land road stability have numerous negative consequences for communities and the industry sector. As often winter roads are the only land links around and between remote settlements, a shortened winter road season implies higher costs of goods in these impacted areas. When winter roads fail or close, overland travel may become dangerous or impossible and unless located near a navigable waterway, communities face steep price increases as supplies must be delivered by air. Mining, energy and timber interests face shorter time windows to transport necessary equipments and products; and the coordination of the supply chain is getting complex due to the interannual variability in the winter road season length.

Decision support to client

The Lena River Basin Water Management Administration operates ferry routes and ice crossing at the main regional transportation hub in Yakutsk. This administration plans the construction of seasonal roads and set up strategies for their exploitation. Information on observed and projected durations of navigation season, operation of ice roads and assessment of the stability of roads constructed on permafrost this case study will provide, will support the plannification of the transportation schemes, including investment into roads maintenance and influence policies.
In addition, the department of permafrost engineering at the Melnikov Permafrost Institute (MPI), that develops new technologies for safe construction and exploitation of roads on land, will use the projections of roads stability under climate change in near future to improve their concepts of road development and maintenance. 

Temporal and spatial scale

The most complete and high-quality local data are available for the period 1966-2014 that will be used in the climate impact indicators (CIIs) production. Future projections of CIIs will be made for the nearest thirty years.

CIIs will be produced for the ice roads and ferry at the main local transport hub – Lena River at Yakutsk. Road stability will be evaluated for three main roads in the most densely populated central part of Yakutia.

Knowledge brokering

Interaction with the clients in our attempts to fill the gap between observational data, science and the client needs are organized through official correspondence and personal communication every 1-2 months. Telephone and email communication are used to share information about on-going work, make clarifications and decide details for coming steps. The project outputs will be delivered to interested stakeholders through face-to-face meetings and short final report. Client feedback will be asked and considered for quality control and assurance that we provide the decision support that the client actually needs.




Lena River Basin Water Management
Melnikov Permafrost Institute

Poster displayed at the Kick–Off meeting, 7/8 September 2017, Norrköping, Sweden

Road on ice, East Siberia, Russia