The Arctic is a treasure of natural resources, yet to be explored, while primarily conserving an ecological balance of its unique eco-systems by avoiding depletion of natural resources. SPbU scientist Andrey A. Alimov, Associate Professor, who was also a member of the expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in 1966-67 and in 1968-74, shared his ideas as to what factors can affect the region negatively and how to cope with them.
For the Arctic, extracting oil, rather than gas, is the biggest threat. Why oil is the real villain? Oil spills, due to accidental discharges, are more difficult to clean up, which has a major effect on albedo (a non-dimensional, unitless quantity that indicates how well a surface reflects solar energy). “In the Arctic, even a relatively slight decrease in how well the snow reflect the solar energy can cause an increase in absorption of the solar radiation, which consequently can have a major effect on melting rate”, — said the scientist. Traces and trails of the off-road vehicles, which, due to the Arctic climate, have tendency to remain on the surface for a great while, he added, have also a potential to decrease albedo.
Another threat, not less serious, is bilge water, that is sea water discharged from the engine room into the sea as a product of shipboard operations. International standards and regulations govern oil-water discharges, still not all abide by them at times.
Thirdly, invasive species can also threaten nature. Not native to the Arctic, they are introduced into the location with the vehicles. They may either die or survive to spread and cause substantial changes to the Arctic natural environment.
In the Arctic Ocean, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 regulates environmental matters, while on land the matters that are not regulated by the Convention are governed by the rules and principles of national jurisdictions. However, sanctions, in case of infringement of such rules and regulations, are imposed on the oil and gas companies and ship companies rather than on governments.
Globally, in our endeavours to save fragile nature of the Arctic it is of vital importance to effectively ensure ground, air and satellite monitoring and to create hydro-meteorological and biological banks. Primarily, pursuit of sustainability and focus on climate change measures are the key to success in implementing the Arctic projects.