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Scientists point to high self-cleaning abilities of rivers near Norilsk

According to the experts, microorganisms may participate in decomposition of complex organic substances and consume oil and its products

TASS, December 23. Results of the tests to analyze bacteria and microorganisms in rivers, affected by the fuel spill near Norilsk in May, show high self-cleaning abilities of the water environment, the Great Norilsk Expedition, organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian Branch, said in its final report.

“We can confirm a generally high ability of the examined microbiological system for self-cleaning from organic contaminations,” the report reads. “The research showed reduction of organic load between the site where the fuel leaked into the water and the source of the Pyasina River due to physical, chemical and biological processes associated with the water’s self-cleaning.”

Experts say that in the examined areas downstream of the accident site, in the Daldykan and Ambarnaya Rivers, the oil contamination had affected the phytoplankton. Contrastingly, in Lake Pyasino and the Pyasina River they discovered the species that used to live there before the accident, which proves that there was no damage from the oil products to the water bodies' ecosystem.

“In Lake Pyasino and adjacent rivers there was no upsurge of bacteria, similar to those recorded in some reservoirs after oil spills. At the same time, in the Pyasina River the scientists registered minimal quantities and biomasses of the bacterial plankton,” the researchers said. “The microflora in the studied waters has adapted to oil products and is able to participate in their decomposition.”

According to the experts, microorganisms are most sensitive indicators of changes in the environment. They quickly respond to oil contamination – by changing quantities and structures. Some of them may participate in decomposition of complex organic substances and consume oil and its products. Those microorganisms have been found in all the samples from surface waters.

“The test results show that quantities of oil-oxidizing bacteria vary between 120 and 36,080 cells per milliliter, with the highest quantities having been found in Nadezhdinsky Brook and the Daldykan River,” the report reads. “Further down the stream, towards the Ambarnaya River, the quantity of this group’s bacteria was decreasing, while in the Pyasina River it was growing again.”

Expedition to Taimyr

The Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences for the first time over recent years has sent to the Taimyr Peninsula, at the invitation of Nornickel, a big scientific expedition to conduct a large-scale survey of the area. Scientists will use the expedition’s results to present nature-friendly solutions and suggestions for industrial companies working in the Arctic.

The expedition’s key points were watersheds of the Rivers Pyasina, Norilka and Ambarnaya and Lake Pyasino. In August, experts from 14 research institutes of the Academy of Sciences’ Siberian Branch collected samples of soils, plants and sediments and later began tests at the institutes’ labs.