A father and son’s Ice Age plot to slow Siberian thaw


Zimov and his son Nikita began introducing animals into the fenced park in 1996 and have so far relocated around 200 of different species, which they say are making the permafrost colder compared with other areas.

Bison were trucked and shipped this summer from Denmark, along the Northern Sea Route, past polar bears and walruses and through weeks-long storms, before their ship finally turned into the mouth of the Kolyma River towards their new home some 6,000 kilometres to the east.

The Zimovs’ surreal plan for geo-engineering a cooler future has extended to offering a home for mammoths, which other scientists hope to resurrect from extinction with genetic techniques, in order to mimic the region’s ecosystem during the last ice age that ended 11,700 years ago.

A paper published in Nature’s Scientific Reports last year, where both Zimovs were listed as authors, showed that the animals in Pleistocene Park had reduced the average snow depth by half, and the average annual soil temperature by 1.9 degrees Celsius, with an even bigger drop in winter and spring.

More work is needed to determine if such “unconventional” methods might be an effective climate change mitigation strategy but the density of animals in Pleistocene Park – 114 individuals per square kilometre – should be feasible on a pan-Arctic scale, it said.

And global-scale models suggest introducing big herbivores onto the tundra could stop 37% of Arctic permafrost from thawing, the paper said.

Nikita finds mammoth bones as he walks along the bank of the Kolyma.

Permathaw?

Nikita Zimov, Sergey’s son, was walking in the shallows of the river Kolyma at Duvanny Yar in September when he fished out a mammoth tusk and tooth. Such finds have been common for years in Yakutia and particularly by rivers where the water erodes the permafrost.

Three hours by boat from Chersky, the river bank provides a cross-section of the thaw, with a thick sheet of exposed ice melting and dripping below layers of dense black earth containing small grass roots.

“If you take the weight of all these roots and decaying organics in the permafrost from Yakutia alone, you’d find the weight was more than the land-based biomass of the planet,” Nikita says.



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