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  1. Wildfires in permafrost areas, including smoldering fires (e.g., “zombie fires”), have increasingly become a concern in the Arctic and subarctic. Their detection is difficult and requires ground truthing. Local and Indigenous knowledge are becoming useful sources of information that could guide future research and wildfire management. This paper focuses on permafrost peatland fires in the Siberian subarctic taiga linked to local communities and their infrastructure. It presents the results of field studies in Evenki and old-settler communities of Tokma and Khanda in the Irkutsk region of Russia in conjunction with concurrent remote sensing data analysis. The study areas located in the discontinuous permafrost zone allow examination of the dynamics of wildfires in permafrost peatlands and adjacent forested areas. Interviews revealed an unusual prevalence and witness-observed characteristics of smoldering peatland fires over permafrost, such as longer than expected fire risk periods, impacts on community infrastructure, changes in migration of wild animals, and an increasing number of smoldering wildfires including overwintering “zombie fires” in the last five years. The analysis of concurrent satellite remote sensing data confirmed observations from communities, but demonstrated a limited capacity of satellite imagery to accurately capture changing wildfire activity in permafrost peatlands, which may have significant implicationsmore »for global climate.« less
  2. The paper is aimed at assessing the associations between the road networks geography and dynamics of wildfire events in the East Siberian boreal forest. We examined the relationship between the function of roads, their use, and management and the wildfire ignition, propagation, and termination during the catastrophic fire season of 2016 in the Irkutsk Region of Russia. Document analysis and interviews were utilized to identify main forest users and road infrastructure functional types and examine wildfire management practices. We combined community observations and satellite remotely sensed data to assess relationships between the location, extent, and timing of wildfires and different types of roads as fire sources, barriers, and suppression access points. Our study confirms a strong spatial relationship between the wildfire ignition points and roads differentiated by their types with the highest probability of fire ignition near forestry roads and the lowest near subsistence roads. Roads also play an important role in wildfire suppression, working as both physical barriers and access points for firefighters. Our research illustrates the importance of local and Indigenous observations along the roads for monitoring and understanding wildfires, including “zombie fires”. It also has practical implications for fire management collectively developed by authorities and local communities.
  3. Following the call to mobilize studies of social-ecological systems and sociotechnical systems, the paper presents the case for studying integrated social-ecological-technological systems (SETS), and dynamic systems that include social, natural and technological (engineering) elements. Using the case study of informal roads in the Baikal region, authors of the article argue that re-focusing on SETS creates additional synergies and convergence options to improve the understanding of coupled systems and infrastructure in particular. Historically, transportation infrastructure has contributed to changes in natural and social systems of Northern Eurasia: Transsiberian and Baikal-Amur railroads and East Siberia – Pacific Ocean and Power of Siberia pipelines have been the main drivers of social-ecological transitions. At the local scale, informal roads serve as one of the most illustrative and characteristic examples of SETS. The examination of development and transformation of the informal roads allows exploring the interactions between socioeconomic processes, ecological dynamics and technological advances. The variety of informal roads reflects the importance of specific social, natural or technological factors in the SETS transformation largely unconditioned by policy and regulations thus providing a unique opportunity to better understand sustainability challenges facing infrastructure-based SETS. Relying on interviews and in-situ observations conducted in 2019 in the Baikal region,more »the following factors affecting sustainability of informal road SETS were identified: social (identification of actors involved in location, construction, maintenance, use and abandonment of informal roads), technological (road cover, width, frequency and nature of use by different kinds of vehicles), environmental (geomorphology and landscape sensitivity and vulnerability). The sustainability challenges of SETS development and transformations are found in changing mobility practices, social structure and economies of local communities, increased occurrences of forest fires and development of erosion and permafrost degradation in local environment and push for development of new technologies of transportation and communication.« less
  4. In this paper we propose to discuss the issues of a chain reaction caused by the development of different types of transport infrastructure. The issues of infrastructural projects impact on local communities have long been widely discussed by social researchers. However, the northern and Arctic regions remain less studied in this regard while the situation there is more complex, especially at the intersections of various types of transport infrastructure. The problems of interaction between different kinds of infrastructure are especially manifested in the regions of extractive development, such as the north of the Irkutsk Region and the Republic of Buryatia. The materials for the analysis were obtained as a result of field studies in the north of the Irkutsk Region and the Republic of Buryatia in 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2020, as well as on the basis of the analysis of satellite data and maps of the regional infrastructure development. The construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and later oil and gas pipelines became an impetus for the development of other types of infrastructure, not only in the oil and gas extractive activities but also in logging. However, limited access to the pipeline and oil service roads has caused conflicts betweenmore »the industrial companies and the local population. Local hunting trails are at the lowest level in such a hierarchy and are often destroyed and blocked by infrastructure development. A deeper and more detailed analysis of the social consequences of infrastructural development contributes to an understanding of the hierarchies of power that exist in Russia.« less
  5. Addressing the need for convergence of different sources of knowledge to deal with complex issues such as global change, this paper presents the results of collaboration between artists and scientists to study social-ecological-technological systems (SETS). We focus on informal roads as an example of SETS. In the absence of public roads local, mostly indigenous communities and others use these forestry roads, seismic line clearings and oil and gas service roads for mobility in Siberian taiga affected by extractive industry. In 2020, with COVID-19, we had to increase our emphasis on virtual forms of data gathering, interpretation, and representations of the results. Presented in this paper forms of transmedia storytelling are designed to allow audience and users as well as the local and indigenous communities to get familiar with the research results, give feedback, and provide their own perspectives, interrelations and interdependencies between different SETS components.