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Snow studies: how to control drifting snow in Arctic regions

Studies by the Siberian Federal University in Krasnoyarsk will continue to the end of 2021

KRASNOYARSK, September 11. /TASS/. Experts of the Siberian Federal University in Krasnoyarsk addressed the problem of snowdrifts along the road between Norilsk and the Alykel Airport in the Taimyr District. Six-meter snowdrifts are not a rare phenomenon there. Local authorities await recommendations on managing drifting snow, experts told TASS.

"In complicated weather conditions - strong winds, snowstorms, ice - when weather alert is issued, traffic stops, causing major inconveniences for people in Kaierkan, workers at the Nadezhdinsky Metallurgical Plant, everyone living in Greater Norilsk as well as those who travel to or from the Alykel airport," the University’s Head of Arctic Studies and the project’s leader Yuri Zakharinsky told TASS.

Studies to continue for 18 months

The problem of snowdrifts is not new for Norilsk. Back in the 1930-40s, the region applied significant human and financial resources to clear the snow. Some snowdrifts piled up to 30 meters, and explosives were used to remove them. Once, a train from Dudinka to Norilsk made its way through the distance of 90 kilometers in 28 days. At that time, engineer Mikhail Potapov offered using shields, fixed at a special angle, so that the force of wind would sweep the snow away from the rails. The solution solved the problem, but in half a century the problem has recurred.

"The Arctic climate has changed greatly over the past 50 years. Just like the winds in high latitudes, where wind speed has grown over recent decades. Since the wind rose changed near Norilsk, the snow protection shields, which were installed in the 1940s, are not effective any longer," Director of the University’s Institute of Ecology and Geography Ruslan Sharafutdinov said.

The research project will involve experts from the University’s several institutes. Studies will continue to the end of 2021. The scientists will analyze the snow shields, made by engineer Potapov, will study the Arctic climate’s changes, including the state of the permafrost, and will pick most effective snow-sweeping devices for further studies. They will also identify most problematic locations and will specify best devices and places for their installation. The result would be solutions to ensure the road could be used effectively to at least 2050.

According to Mikhail Yelesin of the Norilsk State Industrial Institute, there are three ways to protect the road: to stop the snow until it reaches the road, to increase the snow-wind flow over the road, and to make special covers above the road. The Potapov shields were a combination of the first two approaches, he added.

"Snow control could stop and store the snow where it would not affect the traffic," the expert said. "Those would be zones with lower wind speeds, before and after the barriers, where the snow would remain."

Common problem

The problem of snowdrifts is equally typical for Norilsk and for Russia’s most Arctic districts. Besides, the scientists want to present results of their studies at the international level. "Snowdrifts are typical for Scandinavia, for Alaska, for Canada," Zakharinsky said.

Results of the studies would be interesting for other Russian Arctic territories. Matvey Chuprov of the Nenets Autonomous District told TASS the region does not have a permanent terrestrial transport connection with other regions, and most goods are brought to the region within short navigation periods by the Pechora River and by sea, as well as by the 55-kilometer winter road connecting Naryan Mar and Usinsk. Every year, construction of this winter road begins in autumn as soon as air temperatures drop below zero. The road may be used for only four months - from late December to April.

"This road crosses open areas, where snowdrifts are often. Thus, any solutions on how to control snowdrifts would be interesting to us. This year, the winter road was mostly closed, and traffic along other roads in the region remained blocked. Thus, we look forward to using new methods," he said.

Yakutia, unlike many other regions in West Siberia, is a region will little snow, Dmitry Frolov, Dean of the University’s Road Department, said, stressing snowdrifts there anyway are a big problem on winter roads.

"This problem has existed always, and traditional methods are well known: special vehicles to sweep the snow aside," he said. "In mountainous areas, there are usually snow barriers."

Sergei Kopylov, representing Yakutia’s road maintenance authority, adds the region has been watching studies in this area. "We follow up scientific and practical solutions and we hope the solutions on the road in Norilsk, which the University will offer, would be practically useful," he said.