Climate Change Will Knock Your House Over

Take heed, denizens of the north—global warming might knock your house over. So, the climate is changing, and we're pretty familiar with much of the early fallout: more frequent and more hellish heat waves, drier, longer droughts, dust bowls part deux...

Aug 16 2012, 3:40pm

So, the climate is changing, and we’re pretty familiar with the early fallout: more hellish heat waves, drier, longer droughts, dust bowls part deux, rising seas, extinct animals, and so on and so forth. Apocalyptic, big picture stuff. But the warming trend is also screwing with folks’ day-to-days in less biblical proportions. If you live up north, it might tilt your house a bit, or even tip it on over.

Yeah, if you happen to live somewhere like Alaska, Northern Canada, or Russia, and you’ve built your house on permafrost—soil that’s been at or below the freezing point of water for more than two years—you might want to take a peek at the foundation. Because all around the world, the warming climate is melting that permafrost, and people are becoming the unwitting residents of their very own domicile-scale towers of Pisa.

See for yourself:

The Leaning Houses of Dawson City


These are a couple houses in Dawson City, Canada. They were built on frozen ground that’s thawing for the first time since anyone can remember. Maggie Koerth-Baker sums up the situation over at Boing Boing:

Dawson City exists in a subarctic climate, the sort of place with a lot of permafrost—soil that remains frozen year round. In order for permafrost to happen, the mean annual temperature has to be colder than 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). But, in Dawson City, as in other parts of the Arctic, climate change has brought with it warmer mean temperatures. That means melting permafrost, a problem that affects the structural integrity of buildings built on the once-solid ground.

According to this CBC news report, tiny Dawson City spent over $600,000 to repair damage to roads, pipes, and structures caused by the melting permafrost.

Collapsing Siberian Homes


This collapsing house is located in Tomsk, Siberia. And Siberia, as you know, is one of the coldest places on the planet. When the roof caves in, it will likely feel even colder to those who, for some reason, continue to live there when there are so clearly other available places to inhabit.

Toppled Villages of Alaska

Sometimes melting permafrost does more than give your home a tilted haunted house vibe. Sometimes it knocks the whole thing on over. Here, in the Alaskan village of Shishmaref, permafrost has led to massively accelerated erosion. The permafrost is melting so fast that residents are actually debating relocating the entire town—evidently, they didn’t reach consensus quite in time. The newly softened soil eroded away below this house, and it toppled over in a tiny landslide. Same thing happened to this one:

And this one.

Thawing Carnage

And a few more shots from Russia, Alaska, and Canada of homes under siege from melting p-frost.

It should also be noted that the energy produced by the gravity acting on the home itself plays a role in speeding the melt, as was pointed out as a contributing factor to the demise of the home above.

Living in Perma-Tilt

Here’s a testimonial from a resident of one of the more infamous perma-tilted houses, on the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska. It’s also a pretty good introduction to the plight of melting permafrost in general, and how residents are adapting.

After all, a few leaning houses are the least of our worries on the permafrost front—that thawing cryotic soil presents us with one of climate change’s most dreaded feedback loops. See, the permafrost contains truly massive amounts of methane, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (which is currently responsible for the lion’s share of man-caused climate change). When the p-frost melts, it lets out the methane. When the methane starts collecting in the atmosphere, it leads to, yes sir, more warming. Which melts more p-frost. And round and round we go.

If enough permafrost melts, and we pass that tipping point where it’s too warm to stop the p-frost from melting (scientists are still wildly uncertain as to where exactly that might lurk), that’s it. We get a scenario scientists call “catastrophic warming” and all that worst-case climate stuff comes true.

But we humanfolk have trouble absorbing that sort of wide-lens, long-term, brain-melting prospect. So maybe this will go down easier: Climate change is knocking people’s houses over. Right now.