Land use and climate change on the Yamal Peninsula of north-west Siberia: some ecological and socio-economic implications
Compared to climate, land use change is expected to comprise a more important component of global change in the coming decades. However, climate is anticipated to supass land use as a factor later in the next century, particularly in the Arctic. Discussed here are the implications of land use and climate change on the Yamal peninsula of north-west Siberia, homeland of the Yamal Nenets. Since the discovery of super-giant natural gas fields in the 1960s, extensive exploration has resulted in direct withdrawal of large areas for infrastructure development and associated disturbance regimes have led to cumulative impacts on thousands of additional hectares of land. The land withdrawals have pushed a relatively consistent or increasing number of reindeer onto progressively smaller parcels of pasture. This has led to excessive grazing and trampling of lichens, bryophytes and shrubs and, in many areas, erosion of sandy soils via deflation. The low Arctic tundra lies entirely within the continuous permafrost zone and ice-rich substrates are widespread. One implication of this is that both anthropogenic and zoogenic distubance regimes may easily initiate thermokarst and aeolian rosion, leading to significant further losses of pastures. Even without industrial distubance, a slight change of the climate would result in massive thermokarst erosion. This would have negative consequences equal to or greater than the mechanical distubances described above. The synergistic effects of land use coupled with climate, change therefore have profound implication for the ecosystems of Yamal, as well as the future of the Nenets culture, society and economy.
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