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Arctic Russia: Minerals and Mineral Resources

G.P. Glasby and Yu.L. Voytekhovsky
Geological Institute, Kola Science Centre, Russian Academy of Sciences, Fersman Str. 14, Apatity 184209, Murmansk Region, Russia

'Arctic must be conquered and it is especially important for direct industrial development of mankind, at least the same as the triumph of knowledge. The victory may be deemed complete, however, only if a vessel outfit in Europe goes fast and directly to the Bering Strait... Russia is to crave for true victory over Arctic Ocean even more than any other country, for none else owns greater length of shore line in the Arctic Ocean...'
-'Arctic Ocean investigation' by Dmitri Mendeleyev, 1901

'The basic economic law of socialism - the law of the continuous growth and improvement of socialist production on the basis of superior techniques for the purpose of cultural requirements of the whole of society - determines the need to draw ever new raw material and power resources to economic use.'
-S.V. Slavin 1972, Head of the Economic Research Bureau, Glavsevmorput 1972, 1982 (Luzin et al. 1994, p. 6)

Introduction

The Arctic Circle is usually defined as being at 66° 33' 39" north of the Equator. For comparison, the latitude of Moscow is 55° 33'N. In this case, the area of the Russian Arctic is quite broad extending up to 10° of latitude. However, an alternative definition of the Arctic region is that area where the average temperature in the warmest month lies below 10°C. This is marked on the accompanying map in red (Fig. 1). Based on this definition, it is seen that the northern boundary of the Arctic varies by more than 6° of latitude and occupies a relatively thin sliver of northern Russia.

To the north of the Russian Mainland lie a number of major islands. These include Franz Josef Land which consists of 191 ice-covered islands and is the most northerly territory of Russia, Novaya Zemlya (New Land) which separates the Barents Sea from the Kara Sea, Severnaya Zemlya (North Land) which separates the Kara Sea from the Laptev Sea and the New Siberian islands. Fig. 2 gives an impression of the Arctic North as seen by satellite. AMAP (1998) gives an excellent account of the physical and geographical characteristics of the Arctic region with many outstanding figures. Interestingly, the Kola region is three to four times the size of countries such countries as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Murmansk is Russia's only ice-free port in the Russian Arctic. It opened in 1915-16 when the railway line from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to Murmansk was built. In 1925, A.E. Fersman discovered huge deposits of apatite (1Gt) and urtite (10Gt) in the Khibiny Mountains which were eventually exploited in the mid-1930s (Glasby 2008). Murmansk suffered massive destruction (second only to Stalingrad) when the Germans launched an offensive in 1941 but fierce Soviet resistance prevented the Germans from capturing the city.

The main economic interest in the northern part of Russia is, of course, its natural resources including oil and gas. The average population density of Russia is very low. In parts of Russia, you could go for months without meeting anybody.

Development of the Russian Arctic

The development of icebreakers was crucial to the opening up of the Russian Arctic. This required advances in shipbuilding technology to create the icebreaker, a vessel strong enough to withstand the crushing power of the ice and to break through it. In 1916, the first icebreaker aimed at supporting regular navigation along the northern coast of Russia was built in Newcastle by order of the Russian Maritime Ministry and named Krasin. The icebreaker operated for many years in the Arctic and was crucial to the development of the Northeast Passage. In 1928, Krasin reached the ice camp of the Italian airman Nobile and took part in his rescue.

The first nuclear powered icebreaker, Lenin, was built in 1959 at the Admiralty shipyard in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) which I passed every day when I worked there! The most powerful nuclear icebreaker in the world was Soviet Arktika which was built in 1975 and shut down in 2008. It was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole in 1977. Icebreakers were therefore the platform for opening up Arctic Russia. Figs 3 and 4 show the nuclear-powered icebreakers, 'Taimyr' and 'Vaigach', in action.

On August 2, 2007, Russia used two Mir submersibles to perform the first manned descent to the seabed under the geographical North Pole to a depth of 4,261 m in order to study the region in relation to Russia's territorial claim to the region extending from Russia to the North Pole made in 2001. The pilot of Mir 1 was Anatoly Sagelevich, Russia's most experienced submersible pilot. At the seafloor, the Mir crew planted a one metre tall Russian flag made of titanium alloy and collected sediment samples. The descent was supported by the nuclear powered icebreaker Rossiya with the power to negotiate the most challenging ice in the Arctic Ocean (Birch 2007). When the submersibles ascended, the pilots had to locate the hole through which they had descended which had already drifted one mile. Anatoly Sagelevich was awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation for ‘courage and heroism shown in extreme conditions and successful completion of the High-latitude Arctic Deep-Water Expedition.' In the west, several commentators described the dives as a stunt but, in this, they were underestimating a formidable achievement. Fig. 5 shows the launching of the 'Mir-1' during a routine scientific survey.

The rationale for this expedition was, of course oil (Shoumatoff 2008). According to some estimates, 25% of the world's remaining fossil fuel reserves are located in the Arctic Ocean. With the Arctic ice cap shrinking by 28,000 sq. miles (70,000 km2) per year, gigantic pools of open water are appearing in the ice, the possibility of commercial recovery of this oil are increasing year by year. In fact, the Russians are claiming the right to the oil, gas and minerals of the Arctic Ocean up to the North Pole based on the extension of the Lomonosov Ridge which runs 1,210 miles from Siberia through the North Pole almost to the junction of Ellesmere Island and Greenland. The dive was designed to bolster Russia's claim to about 460,000 sq miles (1.15 x 106 km2) of territory on the Lomonosov and Mendeleyev Ridges which the Russians claim are part of the Russian continental shelf. U.S. Geological data suggests that the Arctic Seabed contains up to 25% of the world's oil and natural gas reserves and other mineral resources which are being made accessible by the receding polar ice caused by global warming. Fig. 6 shows the icebreaker Vaigish arriving in Dixon which is located on the Taymyr Peninsula between the Kara Sea and Laptev Seas and Fig. 7 the Laptev Sea which was discovered by Khariton and Dmitri Laptev in 1739-1742.

Mineral Deposits

Arctic Russia has a huge potential for the production of minerals. For example, 91% of natural gas production and 80% of Russia's explored reserves of explored natural gas are located in the Arctic. The Arctic also contains 90% of its offshore reserves of hydrocarbons. According to Burakova (2005), the estimated value of Arctic minerals was $1.5-2 trillion. In addition, there were 25 mines operating in Arctic Russia in 2006 (Anon 2006a). The majority of these mines were Ni-Cu mines but Sn, U and phosphate were also mined. Because the last ice age removed the topmost sediment layer of the soil, the Kola Peninsula (which occupies an are of 129,500 km2) is extremely rich in various ores and minerals, including apatite, alumina, iron ore, mica, titanium, phlogopite and vermiculite. The Kola Superdeep borehole is also located on the Kola Peninsula near the Norwegian border. The deepest hole was SG-3 which reached a depth of 12,261m in 1989 drilling rocks 2.7 G yrs old and releasing large quantities of hydrogen gas (Fuchs et al. 1990). Fig. 7 shows the Laptev Sea which is located between the Kara Sea and East Siberian Sea and between the Taymyr Peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya in the west and the New Siberian Islands in the east. It has an area of 250,900 sq mi (649,800 km2) and is relatively shallow. The sea remains frozen throughout the year, except for the months of August and September. The Lena River is the major tributary draining into the sea. The sea is named after Khariton and Dmitri Laptev, two Russian cousins who were a part of the second Arctic expedition led by Danish mariner Vitus Bering in 1739-1742.

The subsurface of the Kola Peninsula contains a remarkable abundance of various minerals. Among the elements of interest are copper, iron, nickel, cobalt, titanium, rare metals, ceramic raw materials, mica and precious stones. An excellent account of the geography and climate of the Murmansk region is given in http://www.b-port.com/en/info/region/

A large part of the almost 20 Mt of ore mined annually in Russia consists of apatite and nepheline. Three-quarters of the phosphate fertilizer in Russia is manufactured from apatite concentrate from the Khibiny deposit located on the Kola Peninsula. Nepheline is used in the manufacture of soda and potash for the chemical industry. Enormous quantities of soda are required to produce alumina from bauxite and in making glass.

The Kola Peninsula also contains large reserves of precious stones, the most important of which are amazonite and amethyst. Hundreds of millions of years ago, crusts, known as 'druses', meaning crusts of projecting crystals lining rock cavities, of variously colored quartz, fluorite, barite, calcite and other minerals formed on the walls of tectonic cracks surrounding the Kola Peninsula. The most interesting of these are the quartz crystal druses, smoky quartz, black quartz and especially amethyst which is noted for its wide range of colors from soft lilac to rich dark violet. Amethyst is classified as a gem-quality mineral and is often found in nature in the form of separate, sometimes large-sized crystals. Amethyst in the form of crystalline bunches is extremely rare in nature but the largest and best known deposits of this type are located on the Kola Peninsula.

It has been estimated that the recoverable reserves of the oil and gas fields of the Russian continental shelf amount to 100 billion tonnes of which oil and gas make up 13 and 87%, respectively (Anon 2006b). Of these fields, 44.4% are located in the Kara Sea, 25.6% in the Barents Sea, 8.8% in the Okhotsk Sea and 5.1% in the Pechora Sea. In the Okhotsk Sea, 3.5 109 m3 of gas hydrates were identified within an area of about 4.36 km2. Overall, it has been estimated that there are between 2.1014 and 7.6.1018 m3 of gas hydrates located on the world's continental shelves making these deposits a huge potential resource (Anon 2006b). However, the bulk of the gas hydrates exist close to their stability boundary and minor changes in temperatures and pressure could lead to huge emissions of gas. Nonetheless, both Japan and the USA plan to start commercial production of the gas hydrates between 2010 and 2015. There are also abundant placer deposits on the continental shelves of which gold and tin are economically the most important. Placer diamonds, amber and fossil ivory are also present. Of the bedrock deposits, a few tens of millions of tonnes of Pb-Zn carbonate deposits have been located on the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago. Manganese is mainly associated with carbonate ores in Permian deposits in Novaya Zemlya which are estimated to contain 3 billion t of ore to a depth of 500 m.

Of particular interest are the huge deposits of Ni which were discovered at Pechenga in what was then Finland (northern part of the Kola Peninsula) in the 1930s. The principal minerals of economic interest were pentlandite, pyrrhotite and chalcopyrite. The Pechenga district includes numerous massive and disseminated Ni-Cu sulphide ore deposits associated with mafic-ultramafic igneous rocks. In 2002, reserves of the deposit were estimated to be 30 Mt at 2% Ni, 1% Cu and 0.4% Co but the deposits also contain significant concentrations of arsenic (Abzalov et al. 1997) and the Platinum Group Elements (Distler et al. 1990). After the war, Norilsk Nickel plant became the largest mine in the Russian Arctic where it was best known for its high levels of pollution, mainly of SO2, which caused major health and environmental problems and created a barren area for kilometres around. In 2006 and 2007, Norilsk's operations in Russia featured as among the 'world's top ten polluted places'. The impact of this pollution from smelters in the Kola Peninsula has been documented in considerable detail by Dauval'ter et al. (2009). As an example, it was estimated that 310 t of Ni, 120 t of Cu, 14 t of Co, 19 t of Zn, 0.087 t of Cd, 0.78 t of Pb and 0.053 t of Hg were deposited in Lake Kuetsjarvi over a 60 year period as a direct result of the mining and refining activities in the area (Dauvalter 2003). Dauval'ter and Il'yashhuk (2007) have also described the conditions for the formation of ferromanganese concretions in the lakes of the Kola Peninsula.

The Norilsk plant was closed down in 2008 because the extreme levels of pollution. In July, 2007, the last measurement of SO2 concentrations at the monitoring stations showed a median value of 7500 milligram sulphur per m3 for one hour. This was more than 20 times more the maximum recommended level of 350 milligram per m3. Later on, the Norilsk Nickel plant amalgamated with the Severonickel and Pechenganickel plants in the Kola Peninsula. Although the conditions encountered at the Norilsk Nickel plant were extreme, they are typical of many of the smelters in Russia which are surrounded by barren areas stretching for miles. As a result of SO2 emissions from smelters, Arctic haze is a common phenomenon in northern Russia (Arnold et al 2009).

Norilsk Nickel is now one of the biggest mining groups in the world. In 2007, it produced 18.8% of the world's Ni, 46.3% of the world's Pd and 12% of the world's Pt.

For those with an historical bent, the review by Luzin et al. (1994) gives an outstanding account of the socialist development policy of resources (including mineral resources) in the Kola Peninsula and elsewhere which prevailed during communist times. This policy favoured intensive resource extraction and industrialization above all and resulted in increased settlement in the northern part of the peninsula, much of it involuntary. It led to the opening of new mines and the construction of smelters and refining facilities which resulted in severe environmental damage in the region and beyond because of the lack of environmental controls. This legacy is still clearly apparent in the Kola Peninsula and elsewhere today.

Environmental Pollution

Because of its remoteness and huge size, it might be expected that the Russian Arctic would be a pristine environment with minimal pollution. However, there are several major types of environmental impacts in the Russian Arctic as a result of waste discharges during offshore oil and gas activity (Patin 1999), smelting of ore deposits to produce metals (Norseth 1994; Dauval'ter et al. 2008) and nuclear weapons testing. Pollution is a serious problem wherever smelting is taking place. In such areas, the landscape is often degraded to a barren wilderness as far as the eye can see.

The Kola Peninsula as a whole suffered major ecological damage, mostly as a result of pollution from military (particularly naval) production, as well as from the mining of apatite. About 250 nuclear reactors produced by the Soviet military remain on the peninsula. Though no longer in use, they still generate radiation and leak radioactive waste.

Regretably, these environmental problems have a global dimension which we have not yet managed to solve (Glasby 1991).

Global warming

It is widely accepted that global warming is taking place. To evaluate the validity of this process in the Russian Arctic, a detailed study of tree rings in juniper trees from at 69° N, 33° E in the northern Kola Peninsula was undertaken in 2004 (Shumilov et al. 2007). From this, it was possible to build up a 676 year long chronology and use this to establish patterns of climate variation over this period. The tree ring data identified minima of solar activity at 1416-1534 (Spoerer Minimum), 1645-1715 (Maunder Minimum) and 1801-1816 AD (Dickens winters) and showed a close relationship to known global palaeo temperatures in Europe (Fig. 8).

Records were also taken of summer temperatures at this location between 1920 and 2000 and showed a steady decrease in temperature of about 0.2° C over this period (Fig. 9). According to Shumilov and his colleagues, past climate changes in the Kola Peninsula are best related to changes in solar and galactic cosmic ray activity rather than increases in the concentration of atmospheric CO2 as is commonly assumed. As result of global warming, the freeze up period for the Northern Sea route will shorten significantly over the next 15 years (Burakova 2005).

Daly (2003) has also made a convincing case that global warming is a function of the temperature of the sun and is unrelated to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (http://www.john-daly.com/solar.htm)
In the oceans, the seasonal minimum for Arctic ice in 2008 was recorded on 14 September at 4.52 x 106 m3. This was the second lowest value ever recorded and it was estimated that, at the present rate of melting, the Arctic would have no sea ice left by 2060 (Serreze and Stroeve 2008) (Fig. 10).

Arctic Haze

One of the hazards of the Arctic is Arctic haze which is the visible reddish brown haze which occurs at high latitudes. It was first noted in the 1950s by Canadian pilots puzzled by low visibility over pristine ice. The haze contains gaseous species such as SO2 and NOx as well as aerosols containing SO42-, H+, NH42+ and metals.

The haze is seasonal and peaks in spring. It is most severe when stable high pressure systems produce calm, clear weather at mid-latitudes. It was long thought to be caused by burning coal at mid latitudes. However, recently collected evidence suggests that Arctic haze may, in fact, be caused by forest fires and agricultural burning in Asia (Brock et al 2009). This would explain the increase in atmospheric haze over the last decade despite lower emissions from Russian factories.

In April 2008, NOAA aircraft made six sorties from Alaska to the Arctic Ocean in order to sample this haze (Perkins 2009). They identified nearly 50 separate plumes of haze occurring at altitudes up to 6.5 km above the ocean. The plumes were made up of tiny black particles of carbon averaging 300 nm in diameter. Analyses indicated that the plumes contained little propane or tetrachloroethene which would indicate an industrial origin supporting the idea that these plumes are the result of forest fires. Pollution from growing economies such as China may also be adding to the haze. This pollution is resulting in the Arctic warming faster than any other area of the globe.

Smelters

Smelting in Russia is a highly polluting operation which disfigures the local environment (Kozlov 1995). One of the largest enterprises in N.W. Russia is the Kola mountain - metallurgical company which was created in 1998 as a result of the amalgamation of Norilsk Nickel located in western Siberia with Severonickel and Pechenganickel from the Kola Peninsula which had already been in operation for over 40 years to form a single complex.

Severonickel is located at Monchegorsk (Fig. 11). It produced black nickel for the first time in February, 1939, and one year later clean nickel. In 1982, there was a substantial expansion of the operation for processing ore material from Norilsk that enabled 'Severo nickel' to become the largest manufacturer of clean nickel in the world. In January, 2003, a new plant for the production of copper with an annual capacity of 15,000 t was brought into operation using modern technology which enabled considerable savings in industrial expenses to be made and a substantial reduction of the amount of industrial gases released to the atmosphere. However, Monchegorsk is still the scene of massive environmental degradation. Elana Wilson, a visiting American student, has presented a moving account of the environmental destruction of Monchegorsk (Wilson 2000). Monchegorsk was a planned city on the shores of Lake Imandra designed by architects from St. Petersburg in the 1930's with wide boulevards and colourful buildings and intended to reflect proletarian ideals of the still-young Soviet Union by striking a balance between industry, culture and aesthetics in both its design and societal structure. Now Monchegorsk and the surrounding area is classified as a 'Zone 1' area of pollution, and defined as technogenic barren (Figs 12-14). In such cases, there is complete destruction of tundra and boreal forest vegetation. In all, more than 8000 km2 of larch forest and lichen, essential sustenance for the reindeer herds maintained by Nenets and Sámi, have been wiped out by acid rain since 1980 alone and hundreds of km2 of tundra have been rendered sterile.

Pechenganickel is located in Zepoliarniy near the town of Polar in the north-west part of the Kola Peninsula. The enterprise started in 1946 and processed ore located near small mines. Now the plant mines nickel and copper sulphide ore with 0.6-1.7% Ni and 0.3-0.77% Cu and enriches it with ore from the main Norilsk plant for metallurgical processing. Its main products are matte and sulphuric acid.

Although the situation is improving, mining in Russia has generally been carried out with little regard for the environment.

In both 2006 and 2007, Norilk's operations in Russia featured amongst the world's top ten most polluted places.

Nuclear weapons testing

The Soviet Union also carried out extensive testing of nuclear weapons on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Barents Sea. In all, 130 tests were carried out in the period 1955 to 1990 at three main locations at latitudes between 71°N and 74°N (Khalturin et al. 2005). These tests involved 224 separate explosive devices, including by far the largest atmospheric and underground tests in the Soviet Union. In all, about 265 megatons of nuclear explosive energy were released during these tests. In these test programmes, the Soviet Union was mainly catching up with the United States which had a lead of about 4 years in its testing programme. In 1961, the Soviet Union exploded its most powerful atmospheric bomb which weighed 26 tonnes and was too large to be placed in the aircraft and had to be fastened underneath. The most powerful underground nuclear tests (UNTs) took place in September and October 1973. The seismic magnitude of these two tests was 6.97 and 6.98 and the total yield was 4.2 mt. These two tests produced very different results. In one case, four small ridges were created and a region 120 m in width was uplifted 2 to 3 m. In the other, a huge landslide occurred and 80 million m3 of material cascaded down in a massive rock avalanche and formed a 2 km long lake behind the debris. About 250 nuclear reactors belonging to the Soviet military remain on the Kola Peninsula. Although no longer in commission, they still generate radiation and leak radioactive waste.

Conclusions

Arctic Russia plays a key role in the Russian economy. It is particularly noted for its mineral wealth but also plays a key role in shipping. There is no doubt that the Russian Arctic will play an increasing role in the Russian economy as a result of global warming which will facilitate shipping and mining there. However, the region has been subjected to gross environmental stress, particularly during Soviet times, which still play a significant role even now. The main aim for the future should be the development of a new environmental policy in Russia which will put responsible environmental stewardship as a major goal for the future. At present, Russia's environmental standards fall well below those of the European Union.

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