A charred stand of forest around Lake Baikal during the summer of 2015. On 11 September 2015, some 55,000 hectares were ablaze in Buryatia. Photo: Oksana Gromyko / The Siberian Times

By Olga Gertcyk
11 September 2015

(The Siberian Times) – Buryatia has been hit in summer 2015 by the massive destruction of its pristine forests in a series of fast-spreading fires. Most shocking have been the scenes - pictured here - showing uncontrolled burning around Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, containing 20% of the globe's unfrozen freshwater.

Local scientists have accumulated startling evidence of the changes in temperature which are turning the region's permafrost - established over many millennia - into steppe. Average annual temperatures in a rising number of areas are exceeding zero degrees Celsius.

A debate will go on as to whether this is linked to global warming, and - indeed - whether clear research is underway which can establish this. Local experts seem to doubt this. Yet biologists say they can prove that parts of Buryatia are turning into steppe based on the monitoring of local plants.

Oleg Anenhonov, head of the laboratory of Floristics and Geobotanics at the Institute of General and Experimental Biology, said: “A rapidly increasing average annual temperature has been observed over the past two or three decades.

“That is why [average annual] temperature in some regions, including Ulan-Ude, became positive. Merely 20-to-30 years ago, the average annual temperature was below zero, but year after year it had been consistently growing and now exceeds 0C.”

Warming caused the upper layer of permafrost to become deeper - and where it is thin, to disappear altogether. “The average annual precipitation isn't changing, but it evaporates more easily which causes the climate to get drier. This results in changes in flora. It becomes more monotonous, dominated by drought-resistant plants.” [more]

Buryatia: where thawing permafrost turns to steppe before our eyes



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