Russian Arctic region copes well with rapid land use and climate change

Scientists have long sought to determine why some ancient ecosystems and societies are flexible in the face of external pressures, like climate change and industrial development, while others collapse or change form so as to become unrecognizable.

Groundbreaking new research has determined the suite of reasons underlying the remarkable resilience of a group of indigenous reindeer herders in a remote region of the Russian Arctic.

The Yamal Nenets are a truly nomadic people who continue to thrive much as they have for centuries despite immense political, economic and ecological shocks.

Free access to open space is key to success

By conducting a strongly interdisciplinary analysis that encompassed several aspects of social and ecological change, an international team of researchers has found that free access to open space has been critical for success, as each new threat has arisen. While it seems like an endless, frozen wasteland to outsiders, the Yamal tundra territory has long been occupied fully if sparsely. The findings point to concrete ways in which the Nenets can continue to coexist as their lands are increasingly fragmented by extensive natural gas production and a rapidly warming climate.

The team of six scientists from Finland and Russia spent more than four years conducting an analysis that encompassed social anthropology, satellite-based mapping, and ground-level changes in vegetation that the reindeer use as forage. Since the tundra is a dynamic system, different from year to year and place to place, Nenets have always needed to adapt to variable conditions.

Past challenges successfully accommodated have ranged from Tsarist taxation and Soviet assimilation efforts to significant climate change. However, expansion of modern oil & gas infrastructure, concomitant terrestrial and freshwater ecosystem degradation, rapid climate change, and a massive influx of workers underway present a looming threat to future resilience. The Nenets are finding that their traditional territories are becoming criss-crossed with new infrastructure like roads and pipelines, at the same that critically important fishing lakes and rivers are negatively affected by poaching and cumulative impacts of construction. The continuation of nomadism in the coming decades will require institutional arrangements that specifically target mutual coexistence.

Prof. Bruce Forbes of Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, led the study in cooperation with Dr. Florian Stammler. Their paper will appear as a feature article in the Sustainability Science section of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).  The Russian magazine Gazeta also took notice of the publication, see the interview of Florian Stammler in Russian.

Высокая сопротивляемость к внешним воздействиям социально-экологической системы Ямала (север Западной Сибири, Россия) [pdf].


  • Bruce Forbes, Research Professor. Phone: +358 40 8479202, bforbes at
  • Florian Stammler, Senior Researcher. Phone: +358 40 0138807, fstammle at