Clean up the Arctic

03.12.2019

Clean up the Arctic

In Arkhangelsk, the three-year project «Clean Arctic» was launched, during it scientists will evaluate how much the northernmost territory of Russia, Franz Josef Land, has suffered from oil pollution. The archipelago was being developed in the 1930s, when ecology was not a priority. A huge amount of fuel was imported to the Arctic for the operation of polar stations and military facilities. Since then, rusty fuel barrels, spills of diesel fuel and other “traces” of exploration of the North have remained on the islands.  

Today, the reserved archipelago is part of the National Park «Russian Arctic». In 2012, large-scale cleaning began in high latitudes.

- Over the past years, more than 50 thousand tons of waste were removed from the Arctic islands, the mass is five Eiffel towers, - Alexander Kirilov, director of the national park, said. - On the territory of about 500 hectares, technical restoration was carried out - this is about 500 football fields. And work to eliminate accumulated environmental damage must be continued.
 
The new project will be the logical continuation of the cleaning. The barrels were taken away, and what to do with oil spills? Scientists believe that we first need to understand how fragile Arctic nature copes with this pollution and how to eliminate it, in order not to harm it even more.

- Not all cleaning and reclamation methods that are used in warmer regions are suitable for high latitudes, - «Clean Arctic» Project Manager, geologist Dmitry Kryukov explains. - For example, on the mainland contaminated soil is sometimes completely removed and taken out.

In the Arctic, due to low air temperatures and a short vegetative period, everything grows very slowly. And it may happen that the reclamation work will cause even greater damage. In addition, nature is capable of self-purification, and sometimes it’s best not to interfere with it, scientists say. And in some cases, oil products can be even beneficial. It has been observed that more mosses and blue-green algae grow in contaminated areas.

- It has been suggested that sometimes oil spills have a positive effect on the environment. Arctic vegetation in the North perceives these oil products as a source of nutrition, - Dmitry Kryukov suggests.

Unmanned aerial vehicles and space images help scientists to detect bubbles of pollution. For three years, the project participants will conduct exploration on a number of Franz Josef Land islands. In the end, they will present an Arctic cleaning roadmap with recommendations for specific locations.


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