Post Alaas Landscape- The Construction of Anti-Freeze-Thaw Oasis on Permafrost Area
Analysis and Planning
Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia
Xiaoyang Ou, International Student ASLA; Jing Wang, Student International ASLA; Tianjiao Zou; Sihan Huang
Faculty Advisor: Xi Zheng, International ASLA
School of Landscape Architecture, Beijing Forestry University
"This project confronts the rapidly accelerating degradation of permafrost in the Eastern Siberian Plateau, the effects of which have disrupted traditional economies and cultures and caused widespread flooding in forests and pastures. Fundamentally optimistic in its approach, this plan presents a creative and comprehensive model of resilience and adaptation that can help local communities that have existed for thousands of years survive and thrive in a world altered by climate change. It spells out ways that the restoration of productive landscapes and the careful selection of plant communities can create oases in pastures and along infrastructure corridors, which along with the construction of resilient dikes, can help break the destructive freeze and thaw cycles that threaten the region—and the planet."
- 2019 Awards Jury
The project recognizes and takes advantage of the short-term positive impact of climate change on the ALAAS thermal karst lake region while focusing on the sustainable development of the more resilient civilization. It focuses on the changing mechanism of permafrost ecosystems and the mechanism of plant community degradation succession. By optimizing plant community allocation, planning semi-natural areas, and constructing elastic ecological facilities, the project maximizes water and soil properties and make the region strive in permafrost, increases the vitality of flexible regulation and healthy growth facing permafrost degradation. Landscape interventions were taken as critical opportunities to resolve regional contradictions and translate global macro-related issues into small-scale interventions with ecological, social, and economic resilience potential, and gradually build an ALAAS oasis for the region. This comprehensive proposal provides an updated opportunity for the region that once lived in the permafrost region to face both ecological and civil degradation through a landscape-based framework to rebuild confidence in the land of degraded permafrost.
Global issues: Climate Change and Permafrost Degradation
Permafrost accounts for 25% of the northern hemisphere's land area and has quietly played a solid foundation for the prosperity of high latitudes for thousands of years. Affected by global warming for half a century, permafrost experienced widespread rapid degradation. This leads to unbalanced water resources, destruction of habitats, and a decline in bearing capacity. At the same time, the melting of permafrost releases greenhouse gases and creates a vicious circle.
Regional Crisis: Instability of Eco-Social Systems
The dramatic changes in permafrost ecosystem have put enormous pressure on urban economic development and social stability. Due to the drastic changes in the social system and the relatively backward economy, the sustainable development of the Eastern Siberian Plateau has been more affected by the degradation of permafrost. The capital of the Sakha Republic, Yakutsk, is a typical case.
The Lena River flood plain, the unique thermal karst lakes, coniferous forests, and frigid meadows constitute the ALAAS landscape system ("meadow in the forest" in the Sakha language). Due to the permafrost degradation, the thermal karst lakes have experienced short-term rapid expansion, causing floods in forests and pastures. Without intervention, the deteriorating permafrost structures would exacerbate the loss of soil and water resources in the region and results in a low-productivity desert ecosystem. The current degradation of permafrost has threatened traditional production methods and settlement culture. The rural Yakuts, who depended on animal husbandry for generations lose their economic base and immigrate into the Yakutsk metropolitan, where the housing and infrastructure stability are also threatened by permafrost degradation. The entire region is facing increasing population pressure and social unrest.
Although multiple climate models predict different degrees of climate warming, the sustainability challenges facing high latitudes on permafrost are undisputed. If regional landscape measures cannot reverse the tendency of climate warming directly, we should look for an adaptive framework to maintain the ecological and production systems in the urban surrounding areas in an intensive and low-cost way, that provides renewal opportunities for long-last rural civilization and reduces the social-ecological contradictions faced by the rural-urban region.
Oasis Strategy: The Anti-freeze-thaw Complex
We propose an "oasis strategy" to slow down the freeze-thaw cycle for the entire rural area to maintain an essential area for the sustainable development of the ALAAS system. Plant communities in permafrost environments play a vital role in controlling soil temperature and the presence of permafrost by shielding the soil from the warmth of the sun, extracting water through the roots, transforming the ground into good insulators and preventing soil erosion. Under the analysis of the negative natural succession of permafrost ecosystem, we created an anti-freeze-thaw scale based on canopy coverage, soil conservation, transpiration rate, resistance, productivity, etc. of plants in different succession stages. A comprehensive selection of plant species with specific combinations of capabilities for vegetation renewal integrates with engineering measures to construct three types of "resilient oases." Three typical sites around the thermal karst lake in the Tyimaada Terrace were chosen to demonstrate the strategies of the anti-freeze-thaw complex.
1) Resilient Dike Construction
A large number of thermal karst lakes in the region are in the stage of continuous expansion, result in considerable changes in annual water volume and frequent floods. It is necessary to adapt and buffer the impact of short-term increased water volume on pastures and forests around the lake. Native plants with active soil and water conservation ability and strong resistance in both dry and humid environments were chosen. It combines local thermal karst rocks and dead woods to establish a multi-layer embankment system around the lake. Excessive water and organic matter that emerges from the central thermal karst lake can remain in the soil surrounding the lake and serve as pastures for future farming. This type of oasis can consolidate the existing lake structure, avoid the degradation of ecosystems around the lake into fragile areas, and increase the ability to cope with changes in the nomadic environment.
2) Infrastructure Reinforcement
In the villages and towns where residents and thermal karst lakes coexist, the design strategy of the anti-freeze-thaw complex mainly considers the social customs and values of the Yakuts, and gradually constructs a resilient landscape that has an elastic adjustment effect on the eco-social system and introduces it moderately. The source of economic growth, such as tourism， maintains the vitality of the ALAAS ecological-social system.
The preferred plant community types along the logistics exchange route, such as natural gas pipelines and other regional infrastructure layouts, strengthen the infrastructure, extend its life cycle, reduce the impact of permafrost degradation, and protect the economic source of residents' living.
Construct ecological corridors adapted to permafrost conditions in villages and pastures and areas with risk of permafrost structural damage and long-term flooding degradation. The corridors are combined with construction of the resilient dams and plant communities at different succession stages. The function of the productive landscape is mutually adjusted, which not only guarantees the sustainability of the traditional production mode but also establishes a buffer barrier between the ALAAS ecosystem and the degradation of the permafrost.
3) Pasture Transformation
The concentrated pasture area needs to maintain sufficient production space to update the production model based on the freeze-thaw complex. The plants here need to have functional anti-freeze-thaw capacities and economic value, such as whether they can serve as sufficient feed for livestock. The scale of grazing is determined according to the need of food. By adopting a rotation animal husbandry mode, the grassland is divided into two types: cold season and warm season. In each meadow, the herd is divided into several grazing plots, and the rotation cycle is set to 25 days to 30 days, ensuring that each pasture has a specific intermittent recovery time. Livestock raising activities are incorporated into environmental cycles. The faeces of livestock are decomposed by microorganisms in a natural state, and a large amount of heat is released. The manure can be collected for regular biogas supply, and a device for handling excess heat can be set up.
Significance and Promotion
Climate change is changing the region of historical evolutionary footprints such as the ALAAS landscape system in a profound, practical, and global way. We recognize and take advantage of the short-term positive impact of climate change on the ALAAS thermal karst lake region while focusing on the sustainable development of a more resilient civilization. The project studies the changing mechanism of permafrost ecosystems and the mechanism of plant community degradation succession. By optimizing plant community allocation, planning semi-natural areas, and constructing elastic ecological facilities, the project maximizes water and soil properties and make the region strive in permafrost, increases the vitality of flexible regulation and healthy growth facing permafrost degradation. We take landscape intervention as a critical opportunity to resolve regional contradictions and translate global macro-related issues into small-scale interventions with ecological, social, and economic resilience potential.
We hold a belief that the project will provide an updated opportunity for the region that once lived in the permafrost region to face both ecological and civil degradation through a landscape-based framework to rebuild confidence in the land of degraded permafrost.