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All-round exploration of the arctic zone is among the priorities of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS): our country owes nearly half of this mineralrich territory and, what with the global climate warming trend, holding out good prospects for transportation between Europe, Asia and America. To keep the arctic exploration up to the mark, we should invest without stint, and restore the erstwhile network of polar stations cum infrastructure. We are moving this way at the initiative, and with the active participation of the RAS Siberian Branch.

Fundamental studies into the evolution of the natural environment and lithosphere of the arctic regions-studies carried out by the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS SB)--are playing a tangible role in economic and geopolitical problem solving. Among other things, our scientists are out to prove that the territory of the Siberian arctic shelf and the region of central arctic rises, the Lomonosov and Mendeleyev ridges including, were a single continent in the relatively recent geological past with a common evolutionary background.* In keeping with law of nations our findings on central arctic rises lying beyond the two-hundred-mile

See: Yu. Leonov, "Studies of Arctic Regions Go On", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2008.--Ed.

economic zone of Russia* might set the stage for recognizing the status of this territory as one of predominantly Russian interests. Almost ten years ago, in 2003, a UN commission turned down this Russian claim out of hand, without any substantive justification. The new document is being filed by the RAS Research-and-Coordination Council and the Federal Agency for Mineral Wealth Uses (ROSNEDRA). Representing the RAS Siberian Branch in this work are Acad. Nikolai Dobretsov and Valery Vernikovsky, RAS corresponding member.

In this connection experts should supply exact data on sea floor relief features, plot geographical profiles and mark off a boundary stretching from the continental shelf down to underwater valleys. Geological, paleomagnetic and radioisotope rock datings bring us nearer in gaining an insight into the evolution of the arctic regions. Processing their data, scientists find bits of evidence on Arctida, a chunk of a continental plate that once had been in existence as early as the Permian** as part of one continent. In line with the by-program on arctic shelf

* Two-hundred-mile economic zone was established in 1972 by the International Conference on Law of the Sea. It defines the legal status of the shelf zone as far as 200 miles from the shore of outer seas and oceans as a state sovereign territory.--Ed.

** Permian, the final period of the Paleozoic. It began 295 years ago and ended, by different estimates, 250 or 248 mln years ago.--Ed.

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studies coordinated by Acad. Dobretsov, they undertook a seismotomography of the arctic realm to depths of 100 to 220 km and 430 to 640 km.* This innovative method, proposed by Dr. Ivan Kulakov of the Trofimuk Oil-and-Gas Geology and Geophysics Institute, holds even if there are but few seismic stations; it was thought to be of no use before.

The Arctic is fantabulously rich in mineral resources, oil and gas above all. That is why all-out geological prospecting is essential to level off global energy trends. This was the substance of Acad. Alexei Kontorovich's address at a press conference on the eve of Geologist's Day. Acad. Kontorovich is the coordinator of the program involved with the geological structure and oil-and-gas content of the arctic regions (land and water areas

* Seismic tomography allows to determine the structure, physical and chemical state of an object through seismic radiation (physical fields acting on seismographs).--Ed.

including). The RAS Siberian Branch is earmarking funds from its budget, but dozens of times as much are needed to cope.

People at the Trofimuk Institute of Oil and Gas Geology and Geophysics say the oil and gas industry has fine development prospects all the way from Novaya Zemlya and the polar Urals in the west to the Lena, a big river flowing in East Siberia. The Institute has furnished data on the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District and the Kara Sea to the oil-producing company Rosneft. It will file recommendations where in particular one should search for oil deposits. Also, the Trofimuk Institute is holding talks with the gas-producing company GAZPROM on a similar program on Yamal and Gydan peninsulas. Gas deposits are colossal there--so much so they are "visible even on seismic profiles," Kontorovich pointed out.

The Arctic's largest industrial region lies in the north of western Siberia, where the Medvezhye, Urengoi, Yam-

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burg and Nadum deposits account for more than 25 percent of the global reserves of natural gas. Recovered from lower depths is what we call "fat gas" containing, apart from methane, much in demand in power engineering, also ethane, propane, and butane, which are excellent raw materials for the petrochemical industry. The Soviet Union used to be the world's second producer of petrochemical products, and Russia has a good chance today of catching up.

Formerly our petrochemical industry zeroed in on the gasoline cuts of petroleum. Today, however, when conditions are on hand for well-nigh complete utilization of associated gases, experts are optimistic: a new raw-material base could be built in the area, for the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District alone could produce 100 percent to 200 percent as much gas as the United States does. So, our experts have prepared a goaloriented program and handed it down to the federal Ministry for Power Engineering. The federal government is to consider a package of relevant materials soon.

Needless to say, it would be hardly possible to process all of the associated gas at Yamal. Accordingly, Siberian scientists propose to build a system of pipelines for transporting extra gas to Tatarstan and farther northwest. Kontorovich and colleagues maintain associated gas would breed new technologies, and that would call for big federal and private investments.

Siberian scientists are researching in the north of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Territory as well. A major oil deposit tapped there is growing apace; it will put out as much as 25 mln tons of crude yearly, and the whole territory, up to 40 mln tons. New gas reserves have been discovered between the Enisei and the Khatanga, and there are shows of oil there, too. Digging into geophysical and seismic data arrays on the Lena-Anabar sag on the coast of the Laptev Sea, prospectors have opened three large oil-and-gas deposits, and opted for further geological surveys there. This project is financed in part by the Trofimuk Institute in cooperation with major companies in Russia and other countries.

According to Acad. Kontorovich and coworkers, the uptrend in oil output will hold up until the years 2030 to 2040, largely through active exploration in the arctic zone.

One major snag is the actual absence of infrastructure that went out of existence in the last twenty-five years or so. Such ports as Tiksie, Pewek, Igarka and others are

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employed just to 10 percent of their erstwhile capacity. Local polar stations are much inferior to Norwegian (in Spitsbergen), Danish (in Greenland), Canadian and American (Alaska and Baffin Island) stations.

True, last year (2011) a modern research station was set up on the Island of Samoilovsky in the Lena river delta to replace the older one, "Baba-Yaga's little hut on hen's feet", as a Russian fairy-tale goes. It provides living accommodations for fifty people, and is equipped with a power generator and a garage for transportation vehicles. A joint Russo-German field party is working there.

What Russia needs is a network of base stations in the arctic zone. At this stage we have only a few ones: on Spitsbergen (this station should be updated), on Franz-Joseph Land (Russian research scientists seldom go there)... "You won't do much in the Arctic by hit-and-run raids," says Nikolai Dobretsov. "We want a network of stations where people can live and work for a long time." This is an essential condition for a skilled monitoring of the climate, cryolite zone and the like. As found out, the heavy pack ice* built up over many years had shrunk by the year 2007 owing to climate warming, but then it started growing again in colder winters. That is to say, the global warming idea does not hold up by the available evidence. Temperature fluctuations will continue in the coming decades, with the cryolite zone now breaking apart, now building up in places. An overall cooling will set in toward the end of this century. To ascertain this prognosis a network of stations is needed in the Arctic which Acad. Dobretsov describes as a "weather cook-house".

* Pack ice (pack), at least 3 meters thick, is built up during more than two annual freeze-and-thaw cycles.--Ed.

V. Mikhailova, "A Fantabulously Rich Arctic", Nauka v Sibiri ("Science in Siberia") newspaper, No. 13, 2012

Illustrations from the archives of the "Science in Russia" magazine and Internet sources


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