The Arctic is an acting factor of climate change

Vladimir Latka

Green light to research in the Russian Arctic!

One of the most vivid environmental problems in the world is decreasing area and thickness of ice in the Arctic Ocean. However, the state of nature in the Arctic is not only an indicator of climate warming. Arctic natural systems contain at least four mechanisms that can exert strong impact of the global climate, unwinding "diabolical spiral" of warming. These are: the sea ice albedo, the ocean evaporation, and deposits of methane hydrate in the ocean and carbon dioxide in the permafrost (see references at the end of the article). The possible effects of all these factors shall be studied thoroughly. In addition, the Arctic shelf stores huge hydrocarbon reserves. Therefore, today the Arctic attracts the attention of scientists and politicians all over the world.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urges to study and conservation of resources in the Arctic

In his speech at the International Arctic forum “Arctic – the territory of dialogue", held in Moscow on 22-23 September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said: "Russia plans to revitalize and strengthen its scientific presence in the Arctic, support basic research, including those with international teams of scientists and experts." The Prime Minister noted that Russian authorities intend to use the potential of leading universities of Russia with strong academic schools and long traditions of successful research in the Arctic (http://rian.ru/arctic_news/20100923/278615457.html).

Speaking about prospects of development of Arctic resources, the head of the Russian Government assured the conference that Russia will not allow dirty projects in the Arctic: none of the industrial project in the Russian Arctic zone will be implemented without taking into account environmental requirements. "The price of the Arctic question is much higher than, for example, those billions of barrels of oil or gas, which we can extract, and which are discussed so much in different countries. If we have irresponsible attitude to the Arctic today, tomorrow weget new global challenges instead of new global opportunities." - Putin said. However, the directions of the Arctic research and responsible institutions are unknown still.

In what direction the studies will develop?

The deputy head of the Ministry of the Russian Federation Igor Maidanov has clarified this issue to some extent: "Since 2005 we have spent about 5 billion rubles of budget funds to study Arctic waters, and subsoil users spent about 20 billion rubles for the same purposes. In the condition of weak geological scrutiny of the Arctic, it is obviously not enough." - Maidanov mentioned at the forum.

The official reminded that the total oil and gas reserves in the Arctic shelf are assessed as up to 80.5 billion tons of standard fuel units. However, private companies are not interested in implementation of exploration, because they have no right to develop shelf deposits. To encourage exploration of the region, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation suggests issuing special licenses for search and evaluation of mineral deposits with the right to participate in their development to all actors. Currently, only state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft have the right for exploration and mining. The Ministry of Natural Resources proposes to create a consortium with participation of foreign companies experienced in offshore exploration and development.

The Arctic explorations are important. However, the method for geophysical exploration on the shelf - areal acoustic exploration - is one of the worst disasters to the sea inhabitants. Many respected marine biologists are sure that acoustic exploration is categorically unacceptable in the areas of plankton and benthic organisms breeding during short polar summers.

The Arctic and the global climate

Vladimir Kattsov, the director of the Voejkova Main Geophysical Observatory, noted at the forum “Arctic – the territory of dialogue" that the drift ice in the Arctic in summer periods may disappear considerably earlier than previously thought, not in the end but in the second half of the 21st century. The scientist points out that the mechanisms governing formation and melting of ice in the Arctic has not been fully studied yet (http://rian.ru/arctic_news/20100922/278136362.html). The Arctic changes rapidly under the influence of climate change. It also can itself become a force that affects the climate. "It's not just an object or indicator, but also an acting factor," - he said. According to the scientist, the Arctic permafrost contains a huge amount of carbon and methane - the main factors of the greenhouse effect. In case of permafrost thawing under the influence of warming, huge quantities of carbon dioxide and methane would be released in the atmosphere and further accelerate climate change. Vladimir Kattsov stressed that scientists have "dire need" in the systems for collecting data about Arctic processes.

According to the opinion of Yuri Mazurov, a professor of environmental management with the Moscow State University, the development and adoption of the International Convention for the Conservation of Arctic is very relevant for the conservation of the potential of the Arctic and the ecological balance.

The words of Vladimir Putin sounded as an appeal and as a policy statement: "We consider extremely important to preserve the Arctic as a region of peace and cooperation. We are convinced that the Arctic region shall serve as a platform to uniting efforts, develop true partnership in the spheres of economy, security, science, education, and in preservation of the cultural heritage of the North."

The Government keeps its promises

The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Saturday 11 December at the 14th Congress of the Russian Geographic Society (RIA Novosti, http://rian.ru/arctic_news/20101211/307323187.html) that he signed a decree on a setting up of a special organization to deal with the development of the national park "The Russian Arctic". According to the Order of the Government presented in its message of 14 December, 23.4 million rubles will be allocated to finance the state budget organization "National Park “The Russian Arctic" in 2011.

These actions are a continuation of the Arctic policy stated by the Prime Minister at an international forum “Arctic – the territory of dialogue" (http://rian.ru/arctic_news/20100923/278615457.html).

According to Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin (the message of 23.10.2010), the Government of the Russian Federation supported the concept of specially protected natural territories of federal significance and additionally allocated 800 million rubles per year for three years (eco.rian.ru/business).
Meanwhile, the Minister said that starting from 2012, 740 million rubles will be allocated annually for the cleaning of of Franz Josef Land archipelago (about 60 thousand tons of fuel, it is up to 250,000 of metal barrel rolls, are left from the liquidated military facilities on the three islands http://rian.ru/arctic_analytics).

We hope that all of these amounts will be actually allocated, and activities will be implemented.

Four key mechanism of Arctic impact on the global climate

Ice albedo, the ocean evaporation

The thickness of Arctic sea ice has been declining steadily over the past few decades. Lindsey et al. (2009) estimated the reducing of the thickness of the September ice as 57 cm per decade, beginning from 1987. Such decrease in the sea ice thickness recorded in the winter time as well. For example, data in the area of submarine sonar measurements of Kwok and Rothrock (2009) show that the total average thickness of ice in winter amounted to 3.64 meters in 1980, and dropped to a 1.89 meters in 2008 - a net decrease of 1.75 m, or 48% (See: http://sites.google.com/site/, also about this subject: http://news.mail.ru/society/4791975/).

Carbon dioxide in permafrost,

see: cybersecurity.ru/prognoz/,

Methane hydrate in the ocean

, see: oceanology.ru//, infox.ru/science/planet/