May 26, 2020

The melting of the Arctic and the geostrategic bet of Russia

The dramatic and rapid shrinking of ice in the Arctic is one of the most obvious demonstrations of climate change that the planet experiences, but it also makes the vast natural resources of that region, seen by Russia as its great geostrategic bet, more affordable.

And it is that the Arctic possessions of Russia add up to an area of ​​3 million square kilometers, 18% of the entire country, and about 2.4 million Russians live in them, which make up 40% of the total population of the Arctic.


For Russian military analyst Pável Felgenlhauer, "the Arctic is the future of Humanity, the future Persian Gulf, and possibly the future scenario of armed conflicts for the control of its wealth."

"The Arctic is Russian", proclaimed on his return to Moscow the then deputy and explorer Artur Chilingárov after planting on July 7, 2007 in the seabed of the North Pole, at 4,261 deep, a Russian titanium flag, adventure in the that two bathyscaphs were used.

The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is not tired of repeating that the development of the Arctic zone is one of the priorities of the state policy of the country.

According to various experts, around 25% of the world's hydrocarbon reserves are found in the Arctic circle, and 84% of them are located on the continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean.

To ensure access and defense of these riches, Russia has restored Soviet military infrastructure and deployed a network of military bases in its Arctic territory. Precisely for that purpose on December 1, 2014, the North Fleet Unified Strategic Command was created, also known as Arctic Troops.


Global warming and the consequent thinning of Arctic ice has enhanced the use of the so-called Northern Maritime Route, which links China with Western Europe through the Arctic Ocean.

With the help of a powerful fleet of atomic icebreakers Russia plans to turn this route into a viable alternative to the Suez Canal, much shorter and safer.

On August 16, 2017, the methane of the Russian shipping company Sovcomflot Christophe de Margerie, concluded a journey between Norway and South Korea on the Northern Maritime Route in just 19 days, 30% faster than it would have done for the Suez Canal.


Although, from an economic and maritime transport point of view, changes in the Arctic have advantages, for human life the melting of permafrost – frozen ground cover in polar regions – is a problem.

"Climate change represents major risks for Russia, in particular the melting of permafrost, which can lead to the destruction of infrastructure," Russian climatologist Oleg Anísimov told Efe.

"Due to the increase in the temperature of the permafrost in the Russian Arctic cities, the ground sinks, the foundations of the houses do not fulfill their functions and they suffer damages and the same goes for infrastructure such as pipes, roads, railways, etc." .

Calculations show that these destructive processes are going to accelerate.

According to experts, the climatologist adds, by 2050 about 20% of all industrial facilities and infrastructure and 45% of housing in the permafrost area could suffer damage, potential damage valued at more than 100,000 million dollars.


Permafrost under Arctic waters conceals a unique energy treasure, methane hydrates, whose solid state is guaranteed by pressure and low temperatures, but that climate change could turn into a risk factor for the atmosphere.

"We have established that, contrary to what was believed, submarine permafrost is not stable, but undergoes a degradation process, so that hydrates turn into a gaseous state and methane is released into the water and from there it passes to the atmosphere, "said Efe the oceanologist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Igor Semilétov.

The scientist, who recently returned from an expedition to the East Siberian Sea, said studies show the speed of vertical degradation of permafrost has accelerated and on the continental shelf is currently 18 centimeters per year.

"In some places where methane emanates, which we call 'megasip' (about 1,000 square meters), the concentration of this gas in the atmosphere is nine times higher than normal," he said.

According to Semilétov, geological studies show that in the permafrost of the eastern Siberian platform there are 500,000 million tons of methane hydrates, a wealth of incalculable value whose extraction requires very new technologies, since solid methane when passing into a gaseous state increases between 150 and 200 times its volume, that is, an explosion occurs.


For the professor of Tyumen State University (Siberia) Víctor Guennádinik, the ecological risks of the Arctic conquest are inevitable, but thanks to the permanent attention of public opinion and ecologists "it is hard to believe that (Russian gasics) Gazprom or Novatek may incur criminal negligence. "

"The contingencies … or the consequences of climate change are potentially much more dangerous," he told Efe Guennádinik, an expert in modeling of physical systems and processes.

As an example, he cited the anthrax outbreak, also called Siberian plague in Russia, which occurred in 2016 on the Yamal Peninsula, which caused a dead man, a 12-year-old boy, and forced to preventively hospitalize about a hundred people.

"The cause of the outbreak was the conjugation of biological, climatic, geographic and social factors: plague bacteria, frozen centuries ago in permafrost, were thawed and infected reindeer," he explained.

Not everything is misfortune

At the same time, according to Anísimov, studies conducted in Russia show that less severe climatic conditions in the far north of the country will have a beneficial impact on the health of its inhabitants, expand agricultural areas and reduce energy demand.

In addition, the reduction of the ice sheet in the Arctic creates more favorable conditions for sea navigation on the northern route, increases water resources and extends a longer season without ice in the great Siberian rivers, which serve as transport corridors in the absence of roads.

Another of the positive implications of Arctic warming, the climatologist points out, "is a more homogeneous distribution of the temporal flow of water, which will decrease between 20 and 40 its maximum level in spring in most rivers of the eastern regions and from the southern European part of Russia. "

. (tagsToTranslate) thaw (t) Arctic (t) bet (t) geostrategic (t) Russia

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