On 29 May, a collapse in a fuel tank leaked more than 20,000 tons of diesel in the Ambarnaya river outside Norilsk, in Russia. Not a moment of peace for us eco-friendly enthusiasts! President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency as the incident is believed to be one of the worst of its kind in modern Russia, says Aleksei Knizhnikov of the Russian WWF environmentalist group to The NY Times. To better understand the consequences and unsettling cause of this disaster we’ve highlighted for you a few important topics.
DAMAGE TO THE ARCTIC ENVIRONMENT
The oil leak that started in the Ambarnaya river has gotten into Lake Pyasino, a marvellous 70km lake (about 45 miles), putting at risk the fish and natural environment of both the river and lake as well as the soil around them.
In the words of Vasily Yablokov, the accident “will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks”, the Greenpeace Russia activist told BBC. And it doesn’t stop there – we could also say that humans will be indirectly affected by the disaster when consuming contaminated water and animals.
Furthermore, if not properly contained, the diesel could reach the Kara Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean, exposing a bigger threat. Accidents such as these show us how important it is to raise awareness on World Oceans Day, which happened on 8 June, only ten days after the oil leak in Russia.
THE THREAT OF THAWING PERMAFROST
Now, if you’re wondering how this diesel leak disaster happened in Russia, there’s an even bigger concern around it. One of the power plant’s tanks, built on thawing permafrost, is believed to have collapsed due to its melting resulting in the huge leak of diesel on lake Ambarnaya.
Why should we be concerned about thawing permafrost? Because it reveals us an unsettling consequence of climate change. Let’s understand better: permafrost is soil that’s been frozen for two consecutive years or more, but it goes beyond that – there is permafrost that’s been frozen for longer than two years, we’re talking about ten of hundreds of thousands of years!
The concerns on thawing permafrost have long been discussed since these ground formations store high quantities of CO2 and methane. When it warms and thaws, permafrost releases carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere that could end up becoming a significant source of planet heating emissions, explains Renee Cho in The State of the Planet’s article.
The problems don’t stop at the emissions of CO2 and methane. As it thaws, the icy ground could also expose humans to viruses and bacteria that have long been frozen. Another consequence of its melting is the change in the landscape of villages and roads built on it, as they become wavy and shifty.
As the planet gets warmer and permafrost melts, accidents such as the one in Russia are imminent and changes are necessary. Authorities must hold the right people accountable for such crimes without a doubt, but we – as a society – also need to make the change happen now!