More than 60 scientists from 15 leading Russian and European universities set off on the Academic Mstislav Keldysh research vessel from Arhangelsk for a 40-day expedition.
The experts will study the state of underwater permafrost in the Arctic seas and land on the coast, reports TASS with reference to the expedition head, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, head of the Arctic research laboratory of the RAE Far Eastern Branch Pacific Oceanological Institute Igor Semiletov.
“We are investigating the geochemical, geological, climatic, ecological consequences of permafrost degradation in the Russian sector of the Arctic. The uniqueness of our expedition is that we do a full range of research, study the consequences of permafrost degradation in all major scientific areas”, said Igor Semiletov.
The work will be carried out in the Kara, Laptev and East Siberian seas. The scientists are examining the state of air, water and bottom sediments.
As the expert explained, the study of the permafrost state and its degradation is of great importance for Russia, since permafrost occurs over a significant part of the territory. Its condition can be judged by the composition of substances that are transported to the Arctic Ocean by large rivers.
The rivers of the Arctic Ocean basin are rich in water and have a great length. Most of them are located in Russia, accounting for 65 percent of all water flows in the country, the rest belong to Canada.
“Permafrost is located in the catchments of the great Arctic rivers: the Ob, Yenisey and Lena. Their catchment area is 14 million square kilometers, which is equal to the area of the Arctic Ocean. And this geochemical signal of permafrost thawing is carried to the sea. And we are catching this integrated signal”, Semiletov said.
When ground permafrost is destroyed, for example, a significant amount of carbon gets into the sea, some of which is oxidized to carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas.
“The water area of the Arctic Ocean emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and does not absorb, unlike the entire World Ocean. This is important for the environment”, the scientist noted.
The mission of the expedition also includes studying the underwater permafrost at the bottom of the Arctic seas shelf and the gas hydrates contained in it, which are molecular compounds of water and methane that exist at low temperatures and high pressures. With the degradation of underwater permafrost, according to researchers, methane gets released into the water and further into the atmosphere. However, it is a more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Currently, it is important to assess how significant the methane yield is.
As climatologists suggest, the Arctic Ocean in the next 50 years will get free of ice in summer. In the Bering sea, the area of ice has decreased to the minimum.
Text: Angelica Stepanova, Photo: nat-geo.ru and open sources