A discontinuous earth: permafrost multiplicity in the Anthropocene

Authors: Charlotte Wrigley*, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Anthropocene, Cryosphere, Russia
Keywords: Anthropocene, permafrost, rewilding, climate change, Arctic, cryosphere
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Jefferson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The scientific definition of permafrost – perennially frozen soil – may seem straightforward, but in an isolated corner of Northern Siberia it is anything but. Here, the permafrost is melting due to anthropogenic climate change, and initial scientific studies suggest it is changing from a continuous frozen layer to a discontinuous one. In response, the Pleistocene Park is an ambitious rewilding project which attempts to mitigate this permafrost thaw through prehistoric ecological restoration. Embedded within this shifting tundra landscape are multiple actors who engage with and respond to the material forces of freeze and thaw: international scientists who monitor the permafrost for changes and communicate their findings to a global community; park rangers who live in isolation for months at a time; critters plucked from far-flung places struggling to breed and survive in the harsh Arctic winter; strange and ancient viruses emerging from the melting permafrost; indigenous reindeer herders attempting to respond to climate change. What the permafrost is as an object – or, in the case of its melting, an anti-object – generates multiple responses to its changing materiality, and subsequently, a complex ontological pluriverse.

Through the notion of ‘discontinuity’, I aim to explore the ways in which this pluriverse of Northern Siberia knits together, comes apart, or clashes within the wider global narrative of the Anthropocene. As the permafrost becomes materially discontinuous, applying ‘discontinuous thinking’ to fieldwork conducted in Siberia last summer will reveal that there is nothing permanent (or indeed, perma-ontological) about the permafrost at all.

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