One of the craters from methane gas explosions that appeared as a result of permafrost melting in the Russian Arctic caused by the global warming (Image: riafan.ru)
Some Russian officials, including Vladimir Putin, apparently believe that global warming will work to Russia’s ultimate benefit by allowing for crops over a larger portion of its territory; but in the shorter term, global warming is undermining Moscow’s plans to develop the Far North and even threatening the lives of people there, experts say.
According to experts, URA’s Vyacheslav Yegorov says, “everything that has been built” up to now or may be built in Russia’s North may collapse as the result either of unexpected subsidence as the permafrost melts or explosions from methane gas released as part of that process.
On the Yamal peninsula alone, one of Russia’s most important oil and gas fields, these twin developments are destroying buildings and pipelines and thus putting at risk Moscow’s plans for the regions. They are also threatening the lives and way of life of the people there, both indigenous and arrivals from elsewhere.
Specialists at the Scientific Center for the Cryosphere of the Earth in Tyumen say that the first gas bubbles that threaten to explode were identified three years ago. Now, some 7,000 of these dangerous places have been identified, they say; and the experts point out that the number has continued to grow even though this summer was cooler than the last three.
Aleksey Titovsky, the head of the scientific department of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, says that the appearance of these gas bubbles and their explosive potential “can radically change the approach to the exploitation not only of the Yamal but of the entire Arctic.”
Indeed, he continues, they already represent “a definite danger” both to gas pipelines and industrial objects and to the lives and way of life of the people who work for them or who carry on their traditional reindeer herding. Because scholars don’t understand yet why these gas bubbles are likely to explode, it isn’t possible to warn people in advance.
And Vitaly Bogoyavlensky, the deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for Problems of Oil and Gas, say that these gas bubbles have already pushed up and damaged pipelines and, when they explode, are likely to do even more damage, possibly damaging them and leading to leaks.
But the first thing people in the region are likely to notice, Maksim Pershikov, the director of the Yamal Highway Inspectorate, says, is damage to roads, not only old ones but those constructed recently and supposedly with the most up-to-date methods and materials. Many of them are now becoming impassable and need to be replaced.
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