Ecology, the oil and gas resources and new functional materials are key directions of the Arctic studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN), adopted at the initiative of the Academy’s President Academician Vladimir Fortov, the program’s coordinator, Academician Alexander Hanchuk, said in an interview with TASS on Thursday.
“The Russian Academy of Sciences has a program for scientific research of the Arctic, where the base are three directions – studies of the environment, oil and gas resources and mining, as well as work on new functional materials to be used in the Arctic conditions,” the Doctor of Geology and Mineralogy Sciences said.
Environmental studies in Arctic
The environmental studies in the Arctic have two key directions – radioactive pollution and the climate change, the academician said.
“The climate changes make us search for new approaches in organizing of life and work in the Arctic,” the professor said. “As for the pollution, well, it does exist, though it is of no threat; we have left waste in the Arctic’s certain area, but the work on cleaning up continues very actively. We need to offer new means for environmental studies – distanced probes from the space, wireless monitoring systems, and many more.”
Major changes, he continued, were due to the ban on use of nuclear weapons and technologies related to nuclear shipbuilding.
“There are certain territories, where that was done, now radioactive waste is being disposed there, and there continue permanent monitoring programs, including projects of the Russian Academy on studies of that radioactive pollution. But now there is no threat there,” the scientist said.
The Academy is working on special methods to dispose of the radioactive waste.
“Take, for example, titanium ceramics, received from purification of liquid radioactive waste, gained in the Arctic,” he said. “By using this technology, the amount of waste may be cut by a thousand times.”
The warming in the Arctic, the scientist said, is not hazardous.
“There have been changes in recent years: big melting of the ice, the Northern Sea Route clears from the ice, which is good for future, but those are not historic sensations, as similar periods used to be in relatively recent historic past,” he said. “Warming of the kind is changing the Arctic’s landscapes, thus it is necessary to forecast consequences and to offer methods to reduce them.”
The second major direction in the Academy’s research in the Arctic is the oil and gas sector and deposits of minerals and rare-earth metals.
“It is most important to realize that the region is the richest, but in reality deposits of oil and gas are not estimated, as most forecasts are related to the western areas of the Arctic, while research in the eastern part is only beginning,” the professor said, adding the Arctic’s studied territory is mostly in the coastal area and at relatively small depths, thus it is very complicated to say how much oil and gas there is in the Arctic.
“If we use the thinking – “for how long we shall have enough oil and gas?”, then there are no reasons to worry – sufficient for indefinite future, we do not have any problems with resources,” he said. “It is important to develop technologies of extracting hydrocarbons in the Arctic conditions, to make the work economically reasonable, while the technologies we have now are not economically attractive.”
“The thing is – we should invest in research of the Arctic for the sake of future,” he stressed.
Other resources also make an important part of the program, the scientist continued.
“We all, of course, hear Norilsk, Norilsk Nickel, but in the Arctic there are very many deposits of gold, platinum and other strategic metals; we even cannot guess what those reserves are.”
One of the most promising deposits is Tomtorskoye. “It is a rare-earth elements deposit, where the reserves are estimated worth billions of dollars,” he said, adding the Arctic also has promising reserves of diamonds.
Among the activities the Academy of Sciences is involved in are also design of scientific bases for mineral exploration.
“First of all, we are working with the mining and processing companies to improve technologies for exploration, their environmental adjustment to the Arctic conditions,” the academician said. “Besides exploration, scientists should be working on technologies for deeper extraction of resources.”
The third direction in RAN’s program is design of new functional materials to be used for work in the Arctic.
“Clearly, for work in the Arctic, it is most important to have frost-proof, composite materials made of various components, alloys of metals, and we have works on such materials,” he said. “These technologies are used in practically all spheres: from clothing to construction of houses, buildings, road surfaces.”
Another important aspect in this work is design of machinery and materials, like, for example special powder to put out fire in the Arctic zone.
“Fire extinguishing in the Arctic is a big problem – if all the year you are surrounded with ice and snow, then what do you use to put out fire? You cannot use water, as it simply freezes up, thus here are specialized antifreeze powders,” he said.
Human health in Arctic
Another major direction is improvement of health of the people in the Arctic.
“It is a major direction – adaptation of people, who come, for example, to work in shifts, or those, born in the Arctic,” the scientist said. “Here, the situation is rather complicated, as generally prevalence in this region is higher than in any other part of Russia.”
First of all, people coming to the Arctic, experience respiratory and blood circulation problems.
“Large pressure differences, geomagnetic storms are reasons affecting the health,” the professor said. “There are certain problems with lungs – they are caused by the Arctic climate, thus the issue of adaptation is extremely important for visitors.”
Indigenous peoples, he continued, are suffering from digestive diseases.
“They have changed greatly the traditional food, now they have products and alcohol, which are not typical for them,” he said. “As yet, we are not speaking about a catastrophe; the rates are comparable with the Russian average levels.”
Children of indigenous peoples often in development lack behind children from other Russian regions, and medical scientists have been working on special methods to treat the problem, he said.
“The global task in the Russian Arctic zone for coming years is to improve the quality of life there, as this is on what would depend how much technologically we shall be exploring and developing the Arctic resources,” the academician said in conclusion.