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Russian Arctic Oil Spill – Role of climate change

Russian Arctic Oil Spill – Role of climate change

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-3- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

In news:

Russia declared a state of emergency, five days after a power plant fuel leak in its Arctic region caused 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil to escape into a local river, turning its surface crimson red. 

The Ambarnaya river, into which the oil has been discharged, is part of a network that flows into the environmentally sensitive Arctic Ocean.


Oil spill – Ambarnaya river

 How did it happen?

  • The thermoelectric power plant at Norilsk is built on
  • It has weakened over the years owing to climate change.
  • This caused the pillars that supported the plant’s fuel tank to sink.,leading to a loss of containment on May 29.
  • Reports said that the oil was has since drifted 12 kmon its surface.

Measures taken:

  • Russia hasordered a probe into the incident.
  • Boom obstacleswere placed in the river, but they were unable to contain the oil because of shallow waters.
  • So far, three criminal proceedingshave been launched, and the head of the power plant has been detained.
  • state of emergencywas declared.
  • This would bring in extra forces and federal resources for the clean-up efforts


  • Environmentalists have said the river would be difficult to clean, given its shallow watersand remote location, as well as the magnitude of the spill.
  • This as the second-largest known oil leak in modern Russia’s history in terms of volume.
  • The Russian chapter of activist group Greenpeace said damages to the Arctic waterways could be at least 6 billion rubles (over $76 million), and has compared the incident to Alaska’s 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. 

“The 2017 Ennore oil spill was an oil spill that occurred outside the Kamarajar Port in Ennore near Chennai in TamilNaduIndia. In February 2017, the Indian Coast Guard said that approximately an area of 34,000 square metres (370,000 sq ft) was affected.”


  • Permafrostis any ground that remains completely frozen—32°F (0°C) or colder—for at least two years straight.
  • These permanently frozen grounds are most common in regions with high mountains and in Earth’s higher latitudes—near the North and South Poles.
  • Permafrost covers large regions of the Earth.
  • Almost a quarter of the land area in the Northern Hemispherehas permafrost underneath.
  • Although the ground is frozen, permafrost regions are not always covered in snow.

What Is Permafrost Made Of?

  • Permafrost is made of a combination of soil, rocks and sandthat are held together by ice.
  • The soil and ice in permafrost stay frozen all year long.
  • Near the surface, permafrost soils also contain large quantities of organic carbon—a material leftover from dead plants that couldn’t decompose, or rot away, due to the cold.
  • Lower permafrost layers contain soils made mostly of minerals.

A thawing permafrost

  • A layer of soil on top of permafrost does not stay frozen all year.
  • This layer, called the active layer, thaws during the warm summer months and freezes again in the fall.
  • In colder regions, the ground rarely thaws—even in the summer.

Thawing permafrost and its impacts:

  • As Earth’s climate warms, the permafrost is thawing. That means the ice inside the permafrost melts, leaving behind water and soil.
  • Thawing permafrost can have dramatic impacts on our planet and the things living on it.
  • For example: Many northern villages are built on permafrost. When permafrost is frozen, it’s harder than concrete. However, thawing permafrost can destroy houses, roads and other infrastructure.
  • When permafrost is frozen, plant material in the soil—called organic carbon—can’t decompose, or rot away.
  • As permafrost thaws, microbes begin decomposing this material. This process releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere.
  • When permafrost thaws, so do ancient bacteria and virusesin the ice and soil. These newly-unfrozen microbes could make humans and animals very sick. Scientists have discovered microbes more than 400,000 years old in thawed permafrost.
Arctic vulnerability:In recent decades, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been melting faster than it re-freezes in winter. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report states that greenhouse gas forcing is predominantly responsible for the decline in Arctic sea ice extent.

As global warming has raised temperatures, especially in Arctic latitudes, melting permafrost has become a major problem. In many colder areas buildings and structures are built on permafrost which can be as hard – and had been as permanent – as concrete.

That has begun to change with warming temperatures, causing damage to buildings and surrounding ecosystems.

Source:” Indian Express/ BBC“.

Possible UPSC CSE Mains Question:

The Russian Arctic oil spill episode shows us the economic and environmental cost of human-induced climate change disasters. Elaborate.