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Scientists study oil products pollution on Franz Josef Land

Cleaning effort on Franz Josef Land has been underway since 2012, with more than 45,000 tonnes of waste having been removed from the archipelago between 2012 and 2017

ARKHANGELSK, December 2. /TASS/. Specialists of the Russian Arctic Nature Park jointly with the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geography began the Clean Arctic project to analyze the effect of oil products’ pollution on soils, vegetation and the ecosystem’s other components on the Franz Josef Land Archipelago. The project will continue for three years, the national park’s Director Alexander Kirilov told TASS.

"We’ve begun the Clean Arctic project on Franz Josef Land, which will continue for three years," he said. "Scientists will analyze distribution of oil products in the seasonal melt layer in the Arctic."

"Researchers will see how much oil products affect components of the ecosystem in high latitudes," he continued. "The results will be applied to plan further revegetation of those territories."

Cleaning effort on Franz Josef Land has been underway since 2012, and between 2012 and 2017 more than 45,000 tonnes of waste was removed from the archipelago. Cleaning works have been practically finalized on the Alexandra Land, the Hooker, Heiss and Graham Bell Islands, and cleaning work should yet be carried out on the Rudolf and Hofmann Islands.

"Polluted areas still remain in places, where fuel used to be stored <...> and thus quite many oil products still remain in the soil," the Clean Arctic project’s leader, geologist Dmitry Kryukov noted.

As part of the project, specialists will take soil samples and compare them with "clean" areas. "Thus, the studies will let us see how the environment may change under the effect of such pollutants," Alexander Dobryansky of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geography commented. The first samples have been taken on the Alexandra Land.

Remote analysis

Conditions on the islands, where the cleaning took place, are different, and thus specialists used different methods to revegetate the soils. The studies will also show how effective the chosen methods were and what impact they have on the ecosystem.

Results of the studies on the Arctic islands will serve as an input into remote analysis of pollution, including by radar imaging. It is very hard to receive good pictures of the high-latitudinal Arctic from satellites as the territory practically always is under layers of clouds, the expert said.

"When we study the territory, we are gaining references in order to use space imaging to decipher the objects we need: pollution and structure of landscapes," he explained. "But in order to use radar imaging, which works regardless of clouds, we need to have a database of spectral images in different shooting ranges."

"Sets of references and comparison with how objects are represented in optical images will be used to develop a method of decoding radar imaging for the high-Arctic conditions," he added.

This method could be employed both on Franz Josef Land’s islands and on other islands as well as on the mainland with similar conditions: for example, on Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya archipelagoes.

"The technologies could be used practically along the entire northern shore of continental Russia," Dobryansky pointed out. "In the Lena’s estuary in Yakutia, for example, there is still lots of environmental damage. The work there is supported financially by the Rosneft company."

The Russian Arctic National Park is Russia’s northernmost and biggest nature reserve, which covers an area of 8.8 million hectares. It was established on June 15, 2009. The Park includes a northern part of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago’s Severny Island and the entire Franz Josef Land Archipelago.