The Nature Area of West Siberia

and its Possible Destruction by Man

reported by Michael Hoffmann



1. Introduction

2. The Western Siberian lowland
2.1 Swamps
2.2 Taiga
2.3 Utilization and environmental destruction
2.3.1 Forests
2.3.2 Oil
2.3.3 Peat

3. Tundra
3.1 Natural state
3.2 Environmental destruction

4. The Ob river system
4.1 Hydrology and limnophysics
4.2 Water quality
4.3 Anthropogenic influences

5. Consequences

6. Literature

1. Introduction

This paper is based on investigations which were performed during an international expedition in summer 1991. The participants were journalists and scientists from both, Russia and Western countries. The main aim of the expedition was to collect information about the ecological situation of this nature area and to document and publish how it is being threatened. This work cannot give a complete picture. The complexity of this nature area can only be described in parts. The focus is on those aspects which are necessary for the evaluation of the presented material.

Scientific literature about this area is mainly published in Russian magazines and pamphlets. For this presented paper it was also very helpful to have had numerous talks with Russian experts of Siberian institutes, government control offices and also representatives of the economy and industry.

For the expedition, it was necessary to use small and large boats and motor vehicles. Sometimes also a helicopter was available to approach barely accessible areas.

On site measurements could only be performed on a simple level. They were limited to water temperature (WT), oxygen (O2), redox potential (Eh), NH4-N, N02-N, N03-N and visibility (using a Secchi disc). These measurements were completed by hydrobiological investigations using saproby indicators. In addition, samples were taken, preserved and transported to England. Analyses of heavy metals and toxic organics have been carried out in a Greenpeace laboratory at the University of London, Queen Mary and Westfield College (QMW). The results are reported separately. The sampling sites on the Ob river and its tributaries are shown on the map (fig. 1).

During the whole expedition the investigations were also documented by video and photography.

The nature area presented in this paper is situated east of the Urals. It can be divided into three large areas:

The first and third area belong to the drainage basin of the river Ob and its tributaries. In the following chapter the central part of Western Siberia and its environmental problems will be described.

ob basin,  10 kB  



Fig. 1: The drainage system of the river Ob indicating measuring and sampling sites. (The surface area is given in sq. km and in sq. miles.)

2. The Western Siberian lowland

2.1 Swamps

The drainage basin of the middle and lower Ob and its tributaries is the region between a line drawn through Sverdlovsk, Omck, Novosibirsk, and Tomsk to Krasnoyarsk in the south and the Obskaja Guba (Ob bay) and the Arctic sea in the north. The area is mainly characterized by swamps and forests followed by the tundra in the north. The maximum distance from north to south is about 2000 km, and from east to west, more than 1600 km. Here is the largest unbroken area of swampland in the world, as well as huge areas of original taiga and tundra. The dimension, diversity and beauty of this nature area are overwhelming.

The base relief of the Western Siberian lowland (mesocainozoic layers) was formed by glaciers during the ice age. The ice masses left gravel and sand when retreating with sandy layers later reaching up to 40 m. Water collected in depressions and was sealed in by clay and silt. During this time, swamps developed not only in wet, poorly drained areas but even above the watershed.

The swamps can be compared to a huge sponge. Also between the water surfaces, the underground is wet and partly inaccessible (see fig. 2). The water volume of this area is enormous. 80 % of the Western Siberian surface or 2 million sq. km are saturated with water. The moors retain as much water as flows the Ob river system in two years (MARCINEK and ROSENKRANZ, 1989).

photo made out of a helicopter,   112 kB

Fig. 2: Siberian swamps

The immense water volume is not only based on the topographical conditions described above but also on hydrological and climatological factors. The annual precipitation increases from the southwest to the northeast; in the southwest it only amounts to 400 or 450 mm/a, in the area southwest of the Ob river, and within a 50 km zone on the north side of the river, the climatological maps show values from about 450 to nearly 500 mm/a and, nearer to the northeast edge of the basin, the values increase up to more than 500 mm/a

The indicated values, however, do not completely reflect the reality. The formation of dew, for example, is only poorly determined with the usual measuring systems. The average air humidity for the year is between 70% and 80% (MOTE 1990). With improved methods more than double the precipitation can be registered.

On the other hand, evaporation (240 - 300 mm/a) and run-off (130 - 270 mm/a) are minimal. The Ob river and its tributaries build many arms (furcations) and meanders, holding up the flow. Besides this, there are spring floods caused by melting snow around the upper part of the river. These cause additional blockages because the broken ice is transported downriver and builds up dams in the middle and lower part of the river. The high flood decreases very slowly during early summer (see fig. 2) because glaciers and snow from the higher Altai areas melt only later in the year. During the high flow period, river water permeates the marshes and leads to widespread wetness; even watersheds can be flooded. Because of low incline and the high water retaining capacity of the vegetation, drainage is very slow. The water run-off is completely inhibited or only partly existing near the edges.

Today’s appearance of the swamps and moors shows a great diversity. Colors, forms and pattern are dependent on the underground, hydrological factors and the state of succession. Today's moors are "aapamoors" with line like patterns where peat mosses (especially Sphagnum fuscum) are dominant. These have a very efficient water retaining capacity because of special adaptations inside the leaves and between the shoots. The adaptations are only useful for a lower precipitation. Both, an increase and a decrease, can lead to severe changes of the vegetation. For more biological details see the scientific literature (e.g summaries in WALTER 1977 and HEINRICH and HERGT 1991).

The whole complex is always in a state growth. The development and growth of the swamps lead to hydrological changes. The formation of high moors raises the ground water level. Movements of the river bed and meanders can lead to significant changes in the water regime and to the appearance or disappearance of swamps.

It was also proven that the underground can be lowered by minute earth movements of only 0.07 to 0.25mm (see WALTER 1977); this amount is, however, sufficient to flood or dry out large areas. During such processes whole forests can be damaged or started anew. In the swamplands, changes can be very drastic. Flooding leads to a lack of oxygen and anaerobic processes. In this way, gases such as methane can build up and kill the vegetation. Consequently, new lakes form and build huge water complexes. These water complexes will change again to moors in the distant future (on condition that the rainwater does not contain too many nutrients).

In addition to the water volume, the peat, which has build up since the last ice age, must be taken into consideration. The average layer is about 6 to 7 m thick, in some cases more than 12 m may be reached. The peat mosses mentioned above grow continuously on top of their own shoots which finally die because they suffer from a lack of light and oxygen. At the same time, other (higher) plants need to raise their base continuously.

Amongst the climatic factors the frosts, especially, can influence vegetation and the bottom morphology and in this way the appearance of the whole swampland. Depending on the geographical position, temperatures fluctuate between more than 35 °C in summer and less than – 50 °C (in the north less than - 60°C) in winter. Summertime lasts only three to four months. The average frost-free period lasts 174 days (WALTER 1977), but for 100 days the daily mean values average is higher than 10 °C and causes a high plant productivity during this time.

Water pools and ponds can freeze several meters deep when exposed to the wind as they are free from snow cover. The decomposition of plant material is not only inhibited by a lack of nutrients and by acidification, but also by low temperatures. In deeper peat layers the decomposition can finally reach 25 %, near the surface about 5 %. With increasing depth, pressure and drying increases as well and some physico-chemical changes occur. Simultaneously humic substances are built preferentially. In summer temperatures increase far above 20 °C. An overview of results of own in-situ measurements are presented in table 1.

So far, the explanation shows that swamps are not a static construction but a continuously changing ecosystem. During their cultivation, the countrysides of western Europe have been dried up by ditches and drainage systems. In Western Siberia it is rather the opposite. Besides anthropogenic influences, aspects of a natural development must be taken into account. The natural development of lakes into moors and high moors is a slow process due to the climatic conditions. Corresponding with the unequal distribution of precipitation, the occurrence of peat, swamps and forests differs. Furthermore the vegetation types are mixed and difficult to differentiate. Nevertheless it was estimated that the total increase of swamps is about 0.01 % per year. At the same time, the decrease in forest area is estimated to be about 24 000 to 28 000 (WOLFSON 1983).

Table 1: Physico-chemical characterization of pools and ponds (different depths) in the swamps and tundra of Western Siberia

hour sampling location WT, °C O2, 
07/15 13:10 lake, d=1km, near Alexandrija 22.3 8.2 5.1 1
07/15 14:00 "little sea" , " " 24.0 8.1 4.6 2
07/15 14:30 swamp pool, " "

4.5 5
07/15 14:00 pond 0,1 m, " " 24.0 8.1 4.7 2
07/15 14:00 pond, 1,0 m, " " 24.0 7.8

07/15 13:45 plant stick water ( " ) 22.0
3.9 5
07/15 13:55 water below moss ( " ) 21.1 <0,1 3.9 5

07/17 16:00 pool I north of Surgut 27.5 8.4 6.1 16
07/17 15:30 " IIa (in 0,2m), n.o.S. 29.3 6.5 4.1 12
07/17 15:30 " IIb (in 0,3m), n.o.S. 27.1 7.4 4.1 11
07/17 16:00 " IIIa (in 0,1m), n.o.S. 25.6 12.0 3.7 11
07/17 16:00 " IIIb (in 0,5m), n.o.S. 17.0 0.5

07/18 11:00 pool north of Ruskinskaja 27.6 7.6 5.3 2

07/24 12:00 tundra lake n.o. Salechard 13.0 9.5 7.4 6


2.2 Taiga

In Siberia the taiga is represented by huge unbroken forest areas. In Western Siberia one has to distinguish between the original taiga still existing between the Ob tributaries, and the recultivated economic forests along the rivers. As mentioned above, forests are more frequent in the drier areas south-west of the Ob river. On higher sandy soils there is the "dark taiga" which consists of the Siberian species of pine, cedar, fir, and spruce (Pinus -, Cedrus -, Abies -, and Picea sibirica). Sometimes larch (Larix sp.) and birch (Betula pendula) can also be frequently found. The Siberian cedar is assessed as the most valuable. This tree needs 200 to 350 years to reach its full size, its life span is even longer. Under older trees a thick (minimum 10 to 20 cm) humus layer can be build up and this inhibits rapid infiltration of rain water into the underground. Furthermore, the transpiration of older trees is fairly small.

In most cases the sand is bleached under the soil surface, meaning that (brownie) iron components are washed out and transferred into deeper layers. This is due to acid rain and organic acids which are washed out from the vegetation and its litter. Consequently, the acid neutralizing capacity decreases and "podsols" are built. This leads to an inhibition of water infiltration and further processes, such as acidification, soil degradation etc. Table 2 shows values for the characterization of soils in the Tomsk district (Tomsk oblast) and results of own random samples. They show the week buffer capacity. In the long term view, one must be aware of a degeneration of the trees from generation to generation. In fact, at different sites, the growth of forests is quite different.

Increasing wetness can change the underground into swamp. Water pools within the forests are never covered by ice layers thicker than 4 to 10 cm. This is due to the fact that the wind cannot blow away the snow from the ice. Under the ice cover, the development of humic substances can continue.

Table 2: chemical characterization of soils (A horizon) in the Tomsk oblast after results of SPIRINA and IGNATENKO (1990), supplemented by own analyses in the area of Alexandrovskoje (01 and 02)

Sampling site No





Depth in cm





Particle size < 0.1mm in %



Particle size > 0.1mm in %



Humus content in %



raw humus


Total nitrogen in %



pH (H2O)





pH (KCl)






2.3 Anthropogenic utilization and destruction of environment

Human settlements, villages and towns are located on the larger navigable rivers. Some smaller groups of local tribespeople, especially Chanti-Mantsi, however, live also far from rivers, in swamp and forest areas. Their movement into this area about a thousand years ago has not caused any harm to the environment. The invasion of Europeans, however, was coupled with the displacement of the tribespeople and inconsiderate nature destruction. The main reason for nature destruction is the exploitation of natural resources i.e. oil, gas, wood and peat which are available in large quantities. Some of the few factors inhibiting the invasion of man are different species of mosquitoes and horseflies which can lower work productivity to about 40 to 75 % (MOTE 1990).

2.3.1 Forest

The deforestation of the virgin taiga leads to severe consequences with regard to the formation of humus and to the water cycle. The humus dries off very quickly when not protected by trees. Its physical, chemical and biological constitution changes; in winter, soils freeze to a greater depth than usual, but in spring snow smelts earlier. Erosion increases and if the infiltrated water is dammed up, moors can be formed. If rain water can infiltrate quickly in deeper layers this may increasingly lead to a podsol type of soil. Often soils get drained quicker so that the ground water level falls. Even after the spring flood, the level of the water surface in the tributaries can drop very quickly.

The trunks of cut trees are rafted to navigable rivers. Many Siberian rivers are "filled" with wood. This is particularly true for the central Siberian region because the species of larch growing there such as Larix sibirica, - daolica and – gmelini, sink in the water. Also other Western Siberian conifers soak up water and can sink after a while. The wood layer on river bottoms is estimated to be up to 8m high. Some of the wood is believed to be covered by sediments.

In quicker flowing parts of the rivers, especially in meandering sections, the banks are broken down permanently by the effect of frost and iceflows. In spring, water can be warmer than the frozen banks and cuts into them (for more details s. WEISE 1983). When this happens, trees such as willows (Salix spp.), poplars (Populus tremula), and alder (Alnus fruticosa) topple into the water and are trapped on the bottom by their branches; this was easy to find out when diving down near the banks. Only in more recent times wood lying on the banks has been collected (e.g. by the Objskej Sowchose) from several river sections and transported away. Exact figures about wood quantity and distribution are not known, instruments for echographic recording (ultrasound) are probably not available for these problems. River water contains higher than normal concentrations of phenol components which are washed out and cause toxic effects. This fact is well known for the Ob tributary, Kanda.

More and more often, forests are clear cut for oil exploitation. For this purpose special bulldozers are/were used but the wood was not taken away and consequently masses of wood pests can occur.

In these areas forest fires can break out easily and it is hard to extinguish them because there is usually no access for vehicles. For the Tyumen oblast where 60 % of the Western Siberian wood export comes from, the number of wood fires was estimated by representatives of the wood industry as having reached 3000/a. This was equivalent to 200 000 – 250 000 ha. Slightly higher figures are given by the public prosecutor of the Tyumen oblast (TYUMINSKAJA PROKURATURA 1991): for 1988 3129 cases, for 1989 3597 cases corresponding to 636 000 ha (8.5 Mill. cbm). Further to the south, in the very wooded area of Alexandrovskoje, much more (was) burnt: between 5 and 6 million ha corresponding to 35 million cbm.

After fires the dead or dying trees can still be used for up to four or five years. This is, however, often impossible because the necessary capital is not available. The GUARDIAN reported on August 23, 1991 that wood fires are also started intentionally to create pasture. Maybe this is only the case in Eastern Siberia but it decreases the total forest.

Usually, the replantation of cedars is no longer possible because the soil was not protected for a long time and was exposed to a different microclimate. It seems to be very important that the soil gets protected first with newly sown grass. Only after this is done, deciduous trees and finally cedars can be planted again; in this way the humus quality slowly improves.

The need of land for anthropogenic utilization is unusually large. Already 10 % of Western Siberia is allegedly used by humans. The areas between the rivers are increasingly taken into usage.

In the Tomsk oblast the area of forests is estimated to be 17 Mill. ha including 2.45 Mill. ha of taiga. This corresponds to 2.5 Bill. cbm of wood reserves. Apart from this amount 30 Mill. cbm/a are given free for removal. In 1987, however, only 9 Mill. cbm were actually used, in 1990 8 Mill. cbm. For the Chanti-Mantsi district (52.3 Mill. ha), the forest area is today estimated to be 23.1 Mill. ha. 85 % of this area is covered with cedar, pine and fir.

In the case of mixed forests, often only cedar and pine are cut. Less valuable woods such as birch remain and are pushed back by herbicides. Figures for this were not available.

The forested surfaces are mainly needed for the demands of the oil and gas industry. First of all geophysical prospecting and drillings must be executed. Later sand paths are constructed through woods and swamps. Pipelines are laid and wide clearings for the electrification have to be cut. Around the derricks and oil extraction places, space is needed for installations, deposits of drilling mud and oil wastes (on sand). This can be extensive. In the Tomsk oblast, the drilled stretch is 1.1 Mill. m. This amount is increased every year, e.g. in the area of the town of Alexandrovskoje 33 000 m/a are added.

Forests are also lost to all kinds of earth dams. On one hand, the waterflow is dammed up and makes the vegetation die, on the other hand plants can die of dryness. That is the reason why damage can be seen in up to 500 m wide zone along the roads.

The invasion of hardly accessible wood regions can attract more people afterwards. During the last years the efforts for reforestation have been strengthened. There can, however, be no doubt that the original taiga is disappearing more and more. It is hard to prove if the received details of surface areas reflect the reality. When estimating, it is impossible to take into account the increasing percentage of deciduous trees, decreased average age and decreased growth power. The ecological value of the forest, especially of the taiga is only recognized by a few nature protectors. Its importance is mainly seen from an economic stand point. The forest surfaces still seem to be immeasurable but they are more than threatened in their existence. Only 5 to 6 % of the Chanti-Mantsi district is accepted by the authorities to be dedicated to nature protection. 60 % is reserved for industry, 33 % for other anthropogenic uses such as hunting etc. The remaining tribespeople get material compensations and are pushed back more and more, in spite of certain regulations, and their environment is intoxicated.

For the whole of Western Siberia the yearly amount of lost forest is given as 24-28 000 sq. km caused by wood fire, soil erosion and newly grown swamps (WOLFSON 1983). The same author uses figures from ISAKOV et al. (1980) and calculates an area of 50 000 sq. km corresponding to 16.5 % of the country in which the taiga is already fundamentally destroyed.

2.3.2 Oil

First of all, some statistical statements: the former USSR is the largest mineral oil producer in the world. 65 % of the Soviet oil comes from the here described Tyumen oblast. In 1988 it amounted to 394 Mill. tons. In the opinion of experts, however, Soviet technology became hopelessly obsolete. Consequently, the yearly extraction decreases continuously: in 1988 12 Mill. barrels were gained per day (1.9 Mill. cbm), one year later, however, only 11.4 Mill. were obtained, that means 5 % less. During the 1990 the rate decreased once more about 10 %. Without any counter-measures, oil imports would have been necessary in the next future.

The first problem for nature and the remaining tribespeople arises during the search for mineral wealth. In recent times regulations have been issued to protect the environment and they state that tribespeople must be polled first (moratorium). It seems, however, that these checks are not very demanding and that they are executed by experts from the oil industry. The control offices suffer mostly from a lack of personnel and material. Also one can often sense a considerable discontent when talking to tribespeople.

It is no secret that atomic explosives are used for geological prospecting (TSCHOMTSCHOEW 1991). Where and when this radioactive material escapes is probably not exactly known. Also, for all following work, environmental impacts are taken into account. Deforestation has already been mentioned. The drilling is connected to further impacts on the environment by the use of chemicals. These substances (see table 3) remain in the environment.

Table 3: list of chemicals used by B/V "Uraj- oil-gas" company (KREMNEWA)

a) substances added to facilitate drilling:

b) substances for repair of drilling holes:

c) mineral oil preparation (to de-emulsify):

d) corrosion inhibitors:

Toxic drilling muds are deposited on site on sandy soils for further drainage. The drainage water can/should be collected and pumped back again. For the repair of drilling holes, chemicals listed in table 3b are used. When the prospecting has been successful, the first severe oil pollution occurs, especially when oil is under pressure, and gushes out in a fountain. In the very beginning oil is fairly mixed with sediment and water and causes another source of pollution as it is deposited in sand pits beside the drilling rigs. It is easy to get the impression that oil deposits are made consciously to funnel the oil back underground.

In order to improve the extraction, atomic explosives were/(are?) used (and kept secret of course); this was the case in the Oktjabrskij district. Radioactivity is expected to decrease to one tenth within 8 hours. These explosions are meant to destroy oil separating layers and to increase the pressure on the oil. Sometimes it induces earthquakes of up to 4 on the Richter scale - as happened 4 years ago around Neftjejurganzk.

In order to raise the pressure on the mineral oil, surfactants (for foam building) are also added as well as large quantities of ground or river water which are forced into the underground. To replace one ton of oil, 1.5 cbm of water is necessary. The yearly requirement of water which must be taken from the Ob tributary Vach is about 150 Mill. cbm corresponding to the need of a city inhabited by 1 Mill. people. The extraction of water leads to much lower water levels in the smaller rivers and further problems: fish can hardly find food and their numbers decrease greatly; wood fires can cross smaller rivers more easily. Besides this, the ground water level can be lowered significantly and may change or even destroy flora and fauna.

The extracted "oil" finally consists of water, gas and mineral oil whose percentage can drop again to 10 %. This mixture is very aggressive and strongly toxic. In water, H2S is dissolved and can be oxidized to S04 or rather sulfuric acid. In the iron tubes iron sulfide layers can form on the metal surface but are then rubbed off by extracted sediments again and again. In this way 2 to 2.5 mm of the tube wall is corroded per year until it breaks. Instead of twelve years, durability of the tubes is only about 6 years. It is not clear if the corrosion inhibitors (see table 2e) which have been recently added to the liquid may change something. The idea exists that the corrosion can be minimized to 0.5 mm/a.

At first, the oil is pumped through smaller tubes (d = 300 mm) into bigger ones of 600 mm diameter. The pressure in the smaller tubes is 8 to 9 ATM, temperature ca. 42 oC.

The releases of mineral oil into the environment (fig. 3) are not local singular events: in the whole area of the Tyumen Oblast for example, 2000 leakages per year occur, 20 to 40 breaks in the big collecting pipes.
It was also reported that east of Nischnevartovsk a pipeline break caused the environmental pollution of 100 to 120 tons of oil. This oil was partly pumped off, the rest covered with sand. The quantity of spoiled oil, in the district of Nischnevartovsk alone is estimated, by representatives of the oil industry, to be about 500 tons per month. This district has an area of 40 000 sq. km, the total length of pipelines is about 11 000 km. The annual loss of oil was calculated to be between 6 and 7 %. In another case, in June 1990, 8000 t of oil escaped and were "already" pumped off after 8 days because the drinking water supply from the Ob tributary, Vach, was endangered. The oil reached the rivers from a higher plane which is covered with lakes and swamps.

  oil polluted swamp,   35 kB
Fig. 3: one out of thousands oil polluted swamp areas

On July, 16, 1990, TASS reported about a fire at Siberian oilfield during which as much as 400 000 t of "valuable raw material was lost". For the whole area of the Tyumen oblast the authorities indicated the figures listed in tables 4.

Table 4: official number of oil pipeline breaks between 1985 and 89 (PROKURATURA 1991)


number of breaks



86 551
87 538





(For 1989, the responsible governmental office calculated 1940 pipeline breaks (oral information)).

The number of breaks is increasing. The breakages cause the formation of oil lakes. The biggest, most polluted and most known is the Samotlor lake with a length of 11 km and a depth of 1.5 to 2 m. The general technological losses of hydrocarbons are officially said by the oil industry to be 1.8 Mill. t, 30 % of them reaching rivers. WOLFSON published, in his already mentioned paper, a loss of 2.5 to 3 Mill. cbm per year which enter lakes and swamps. In another article, published in "Nefti-Yurganski Rabotschi" (1989), estimations of about 8 Mill. t made by an oil engineer were cited. Still higher values are given by "Moscow News" claiming that between 12 and 15 Mill. t escape within the "whole country" (cited by German magazine GEO 1991).

Soil pollution within the time span 1977 to 1987 is estimated by the officials to be 230 to 240 000 ha (2400 sq. km); after 1987 the amount will probably be three to four times higher. An older prognosis is given by WOLFSON (1983) for the year 2000, with 40 % of Western Siberia polluted by oil.

The population of the oil cities lives from the black gold worse than it is to be expected. The need for environmental protection is given no priority. The spread of oil within the environment, however, will increasingly concern the population itself because oil polluted rivers and ground water threaten the drinking water supply. The maximum admitted concentration limits of hydrocarbons (MAC = 0.05 mg/l) were exceeded again and again, as was reported by the PROKURATURA (see table 5).

Table 5: factor of transgression of the MAC for hydrocarbons in three cities of the Tyumen Oblast. Two investigations (–1 and – 2)

Year 1989 - 1 1989 - 2 1990 - 1

1900 - 2

Nischnevartosk 8 13 46 36
Surgut 13 20 35 25
Neftjejurganzk 10 9 25


In the year 87, the MAC was exceeded in Neftejurganzk by oil 440 times (corresponding to 22 mg/l). To overcome this problem the MAC value for drinking water was put up to 0.3 mg/l. Nevertheless, problems arose for drinking water extracted from ground water in Surgut and Neftjejurganzk; consequently wells had to be shut down. Oil concentration figures for Surgut were said to lie between 0.56 and 1.53 mg/l and in Neftjejurganzk between 0.4 and 1.2 mg/l, in spite of the fact that the ground water was extracted from a depth of 70 to 130 m. When the values are as high as this, it can normally easily be smelt.

Further, benzene and toluene, both toxic substances, were found in lakes with concentrations of up to 1 mg/l. The MAC for these substances in relation to drinking water was fixed at 0.005 mg/L for the USSR.

The frequency of pipeline breaks confronts the oil industry with a task which is obviously underestimated. The consequences of the events are far from being understood. It’s also certain that the oil industry is unable to counteract this problem. Their control groups are out with motor vehicles and helicopters. The cleaning action teams are overwhelmed and not quick enough to pump the oil away in an acceptable time span. Anyway, it is not possible to pump the oil completely away because the oil does not flow into pits. As an alternative, circular ditches are dug around the oil lakes to facilitate pumping. Oil is also often burnt off at the water surface or blasted into the air. Initial experiments were carried out using oil-consuming bacteria. Oil infiltrated into the underground cannot, however, be reached by the bacteria. Anyway. The degradation of e.g. longchained paraffins is only possible under aerobic conditions (in the presence of oxygen). In the swamps it can easily be established that oxygen is present in excess within the photic (light) zone but that it disappears quickly a few centimeters or decimeters deeper, depending on the density of vegetation. The redox potential (Eh), measured several times, was found to be between 100 and 200 mV (pH about 4.0) near the surface; this shows that the redox conditions are slightly reducing. A lack of nutrients, which is typical for moors, must be considered as an additional obstacle for bacterial oil degradation. The degradation could be improved by the addition of azote and phosphorous fertilizers from 5 % to 70 % (HUBER and HUBER 1988) but practical experience on site is still missing. Besides this, the addition of nutrients and/or mineral substances involves the danger of changing the type of vegetation, causing the destruction of the whole ecosystem.

Furthermore, sand is used for the solution to the problem. It is dug out in huge quantities and transported to the swamps. The big cities in central Western Siberia could only have been built up after sand was tipped in sufficient quantities. The ecological problems caused by the sand exploitation are dealt with in chapter 4.

The method of covering oil spills by sand aggravates the problem because further degradation is inhibited as mentioned above. The governmental nature protectors (from the state committee) communicated that an acceptable redevelopment was carried out in only 10 to 15% of cases. It is doubtful that this figure is relevant by Western standards. The oil penetrates the vegetation of the swamps. The technicians, responsible representatives of the oil industry, claimed that the oil only penetrates 15 cm. It could, however, clearly be demonstrated by own on site investigations that the oil passes through sandy soils and spreads into the surrounding area. Especially the ground water is polluted. If the underground contains peat, oil can be kept back until the peat is saturated but this does not mean that the oil has no more harmful impact.

When considering the toxicity of the oil, one must differentiate between the total efficiency and the efficiency of singular compounds: first, the distilled fraction can have various effects on algae. The aromatic hydrocarbons can be put in a general order of increasing toxicity: benzene < toluene < xylene <phenanthren < naphthalene < cresol < trimethyl-benzene < dimethyl-naphthalene. These substances are easily soluble in water and have a negative effect on primary production. A further problem is given by 3,4-benzapyrene which can come up in ground and drinking water and can be enriched in aquatic food chains. It is considered to be strongly carcinogenic. The total efficiency of the oil is based on the well-known fact that oil films cover all surfaces and inhibit gas exchange of all parts of the plant. In this way, photosynthesis as well as respiration is deranged.

When the aromatic compounds do not evaporate, the toxicity of mineral oil decreases only very slowly. Evaporation is inhibited because of the long periods of low temperature. In the wet soils of swamps and moors, toxic compounds penetrate from the surface water layer into deeper layers and into the underground water where they are transported away. During this stage the evaporation is strongly reduced anyway.

From water surfaces, oil can be transported away mainly in spring or early summer during the snow melting period. During this time, large quantities of oil flow through the rivers down into the Arctic sea. In this way, oil can be degraded only very slowly in spite of the presence of oxygen because the water is still very cold. WOLFSON (1983) gave a degradation rate of only 10 to 15 %. Corresponding to this, local experts state, credibly, that in the Ob bay, near the river mouth, oil and tar is deposited in a 1 cm thick layer. In West Siberian lakes and slow running rivers one has to take into account that a considerable portion of the oil has already settled and has partly infiltrated into the sediment, in this way an essential part of the ecosystem and its total function is damaged. This concerns flora as well as fauna. Besides this, the self purification capacity of the water system is decisively decreased. How far the oil compounds really spread in particular cases is dependent on the oil quantity and a large number of less important factors. More detailed investigations of this matter are urgently needed to heighten the awareness of problems and to raise ecopolitical demands. It is first necessary, however, to improve or even to create the analytical facilities.

The later treatment of the water-oil-gas mixture causes further environmental problems. Water separated from the mixture is said to be cleaned up in a special waste water treatment plant and reused for further mineral oil extraction. To realize this, it would be necessary to lead it back to the places of extraction. It is doubtful that this effort is really carried out. The simultaneously extracted gas is of poor quality and polluted by harmful substances. Therefore it is normally not used profitably but torched. The yearly total amount reaches 12 Billion cbm (DIE ZEIT 35 from 08/23/91). During torching harmful substances are set free and burden humans and the surroundings. The flames themselves cause the death of many birds. The number is given as 50 000 /a by WOLFSON (1983).

2.3.3 Peat

The utilization of peat is playing an important role especially in the Tomsk oblast. Peat is dug up in this region by four firms. ARCHIPOV (1990) gives the following reasons for this:

Knowledge about the occurrence of peat is still very meager. Also only little is known about the structure of the reserves, their volume, depth, water content and their logistics of distribution. Recently, regulations for protection were issued to exclude certain reserves from being dug up. As reasons, the following are indicated:

For the biggest peat reserve of the world, the Vasugan reserves, there exist plans for a gigantic economic exploitation which would be carried out in several stages. During this process a part of the peat should be spared from exploitation. This part is fixed in relation to certain criteria:

For the consequences of this venture there is practically no analogy on the globe. The ecological consequences of the damage and destruction of the Vasugan area are simply inconceivable. It is certain that the consequences have not been fully thought through by the planners. All foreseen uses (see above) lead to a mineralization and therefore also to an enormous release of CO2. In this way, the consequences attain global importance as explained in chapter 5.

3. Tundra

3.1 Natural state

North of the polar circle the Western Siberian lowland turns slowly into tundra. This region is formed by extreme climatic conditions with winter temperatures down to under – 70 oC. The underground (permafrost soil) melts only near the surface, for a short period of time, during summer. The summers are short and comparatively cold. In addition, a frequent change in the frost occurs influencing soil structure and microclimate. Corresponding to this, the vegetation changes slowly in a northerly direction: the forested tundra in the south changes into bush tundra and then into typical tundra where the vegetation cover (willow, seggs(?), mosses and lichens) becomes increasingly thin. Here the productivity of the vegetation is low and mosses grow only 2 mm/a. For lichens HEINRICH and HERGT (1991) give a figure of 350 kg/ha x a. Further to the north adjoins the northern tundra and the arctic ice deserts. Regarding the geomorphology, climate, flora and fauna, the reader must refer to the scientific literature (see e.g. WEISE 1983).

In spite of the low precipitation in this region, huge areas are moist or even water saturated because the water can not infiltrate into the permafrost soil. The water collections don’t, however, reach the extend and size of swamps; the water itself is poor in minerals as well and often colored by humic substances.

The tribespeople of this area (especially the Nentsis) live primarily from reindeer breeding. The herds consist of several thousands of animals each, their total number is estimated, for the Yamal peninsula alone, to be roughly 400 000. These animals migrate during winter to the "warmer", forested south where the temperature falls "only" down to -50 °C. In order not to destroy the vegetation cover, they should only stay for a certain limited time span in any one area. A herd of 2000 animals needs a pasture area of at least 15 ha/d on its way to the south.

3.2 Environmental destruction

The area of the tundra and especially the Yamal peninsula, is exposed to particular impacts due to the exploitation of the huge gas reserves. The problems of central Western Siberia mentioned above occur here as well. These problems are caused by the need of land for industry. This need was actually estimated to be 100 000 sq. km, between 13 and 14 %, for the area of tundra and forest tundra respectively. The average annual invasion rate of industry to the north is 20 km. The pasture areas have therefore already been reduced by about 60 000 sq. km (TASS from September,2nd, 1988). So far plant cover has been destroyed by vehicles used for different purposes. The soil thaws earlier due to this damage and collapses. Soil erosion and other long-term damages occur as a consequence. Nature needs decades to repair these damages, but it is unclear if this will ever be possible. Nowadays, more and more sand roads cut the tundra. For the gas pipes kilometer wide clearings must be cut into the forested tundra because several pipes and a road always run parallel. The pipes inhibit migrating reindeer, even when they are underground, sometimes only the males cross them. Because of this, the migration routes are increasingly restricted; too many animals are forced to pass through areas which are already overgrazed and additionally they trample the vegetation.

The pipes are under a pressure of 75 bar with a diameter of 1.45 m. Expert engineers consider that the diameter should only be half as thick as it is. Nevertheless the collection pipes can be significantly bigger. Under the given technical preconditions, the pipes are in great danger of breaking. Unlike mineral oil, escaping gases cannot be detected visibly, but even here, there have been shocking reports about technological losses.

The former USSR extracts a third of the natural gas of the world. ZAVARZIN (1991) attributes 40 % of the world's gas losses to the USSR. The sources he used give quite different figures for the losses; they range from less than 3 % up to 5 - 10 %. For the accident mentioned above, TASS (from July, 16, 1990) indicated a loss of natural gas of 21 Mill. cbm. The global importance of gas losses, especially methane, CH4, will be made clearer in chapter 5.

Further problems arise from the poor insulation of the pipes; this leads to the formation of watersacks in the permafrost.

For temporary storage and better pumping, caverns seem to be created by the use of atomic explosives (oral communications; see also WEISH and GRUBER 1986).

Extracted gases leave caverns which are not refilled any more. In similar cases in the Volga region, earthquakes occurred with strength of up to 5 on the Richter scale.

4.The Ob river

4.1 Hydrology and limnophysic

The river system Ob-Irtysh can hardly be compared with rivers in central Europe. The length of the Ob is about 5 ½ thousand km, its drainage basin 2975 000 sq. km. Within the catchment area of the biggest Ob tributary, the Irtysh, 450 000 sq. km are without any drainage. The numerous source rivers have their origin in the south of the Kuzbass region, mostly in the Altai mountains. Depending on the altitude, the snow starts melting between April and June. The source streams of the drainage basin feed so much water into the river system that even the upper river width is considerable. The rivers build many furcations (arms) in the Kuzbass basin with quite different flows. Therefore, it is often difficult to have an overview and to estimate the real flow rate. In the middle part of the river, frequent meanders lead to the creation blind arms which can become separated permanently or from time to time.

Downriver of the inflow of the Irtysh (largest tributary), the Ob river is also, during summer, so wide that it often appears as a lake. At these times, details on the opposite banks are only visible through binoculars. Figures concerning the flow rate are compiled in table 6 and 7 and in figure 4.

Table 6: flow rates of the Ob tributary Tom and the Ob (average of annual readings in cbm/s)



































One can compare these rates with that at the mouth of the river Elbe (750 cbm/s). The maximum values can far exceed the above averages, as was the case in Salechard where a minimum of 1650 cbm/s and a maximum of 42800 cbm/s was recorded.

During the winter period, the whole river is covered as far as some 100 km into the Ob bay, with an ice cover of 1.5 to 3 m thick. In spring the ice slabs are gradually transported down the river, scraping the banks and forming regular ice dams as mentioned above. At this time, high floods can raise the water level by 8 to 13 m and flood the whole river valley as well as the swamps. The river is then 40 to 50 km wide in some places, but it is hard to think of it as a river in this case. The flow velocity at this time is about 4 m/s.

Table 7: seasonal dependence of the water flow in % of the total yearly flow


April - June

July - November

December - March





Finally, the Ob river runs into the Ob guba where it is underlayerd by salty sea water. 9 kB  

Fig. 4: flow coefficient (averages) for the river Ob at Salechard between 1877 and 1935 (after MARCINEK and ROSENKRANZ 1989)

During its whole course the river forms its valley by changing its bed continuously by as much as 2 m a year. Eroded sands are again deposited within slower flowing sections. This sometimes creates new islands. All this together influences the whole structure of the countryside temporarily or permanently.

4.2 Water quality

The water of the source streams has only a very slight buffer capacity. The electrical conductivity is low, the water reacts slightly alkaline and there is no significant change during the rest of its course. The visibility in the upper river sections is mostly very good (sediments are visible). A little later, the visibility reduces, at deeper places, for example in the Tom river upstream from Kemerovo it is only 120 cm (as was the case in July, 4, 1991). Table 8 gives an overview of the field measurements carried out in running waters. (The detection limit for ammonia, NH4-N was O.1 mg/l, for nitrate, N03-N 1 mg/l. The anthropogenic impacts of the water quality in the Kuzbass basin is reported elsewhere in more detail.)

In further flow sections the turbidity of the Ob increases strongly, caused by clay minerals and – especially in the middle river section – humic substances and iron (iron-humates). The visibility is then reduced to values between 40 and 50 cm (July 91).

Rivers coming from the moors, or crossing them, are deeply brown. Incoming water is also rich in iron because the wet soils are anaerobic and under these redox conditions bivalent iron is easily soluble. Without checking it, it remains unclear if anthropogenic causes (dam wetness) are of importance. In the river water, total iron concentrations between 1.6 mg/l and 2.4 mg/l (July 91) could be found.

Due to the limited light penetration and sediment movements, underwater plants are hard to find. The self purification capacity (depending on structures/material for bacterial growth) of these rivers must therefore be rather low.

Table 8: longitudinal profile of physical and chemical measurements in the Ob river, its tributaries and a tundra stream (abbreviations: < = near under limit of determination, « = far under limit of determination, ups. = upstream of, ds = downstream of, dw ex. = place of drinking water extraction



hour sampling site WT










06/29 12:30 Tom 17km ds. Kemerovo 16.3 9.9 8.4 23    
07/01 15:00 Tom ups. Bel.Zu 16.4 10.3 8.6 11    
07/01 15:30 Bel Zu 18.2 10.1 9.0 5   <
07/02 11:30 Forest source 13.1 9.0 8.1 8    
07/02 16:10 Keysak (near Tom) 16.1 8.8 8.3 99    
07/02 16:15 Tom ups. Keysak 16.3 10.2 8.2 8    
07/02 16:20 Tom ups Usa 16.0 10.2 8.0 7    
07/02 16:30 Usa 17.0 8.8 7.4 12    
07/02 17:09 Tom ds. Usa 16.5 10.1 8.1 10 < <
07/02 17:45 Mra Zu 19.5 9.6 8.3 18 < <
07/03 13:00 Tom ups. Novokuznez 18.5 9.3 8.1 16    
07/03 14:45 Tom ds. Novokusnez 16.5 10.1 8.1 10 0.2 <<
07/03 18:00 Ds. Ters 15.7 10.3 8.5 7    
07/04 10:30 Tom ds. Ters 18.1 9.5 8.3 15    
07/04 11:00 Taidou 16.2 9.4 8.1 10    
07/04 11:30 Tom Krapivino dam 18.6 9.6 8.5 14    
07/04 14:00 Krasnucha 17.6 9.5 8.3 40    
07/04 20:15 Tom ups. Kemerovo 19.6 10.1 8.8 15 0.1 <
07/05 12:30 Tom ds. Kemerovo 19.3 8.8 8.6 18 0.3  
07/07 13:10 Tom, dw ex. Yurga 19.9 9.7 8.5 16    
07/09 12:30 Tom ups. Tomsk     8.7 18    
07/10 19:10 Tom ds. Tomsk 22.6 9.1 8.6 18 0.2 <<
07/10 21:50 Tom 1km ups. Ob 18.6 9.2 8.6 19 <<  
07/10 22:10 Ob ups. Tom 21.0 10.8 9.0 19 << <<
07/10 23:10 Ob ds. Tom 21.9 10.2 8.0 19 <<  
07/11 06:00 Chulin 19.8 8.2 8.0 21 21 <<
07/12 21:20 Ob 1 km ups. Parabel 21.5 8.0 8.2 20 0.3 <<
07/12 21:38 Parabel 21.9 8.3 8.2 20 0.3 <<
07/13 23:15 Ob ups. Yurgatsch 20.2   8.0 19 0.2 <<
07/13 23:30 Ob ds. Yurgatsch 21.0 8.2 7.9 19 0.1 <<
07/16 23:10 Ob ds. Nischnevartovsk 21.0 8.5 7.7 15    
07/17 14:45 Stream north of Surgut 17.8 7.0 6.6 17 0.2  
07/18 14:00 Trom Yegan (Russkk.) 25.4 8.7 7.4 5 0.2  
07/19 08:10 Irtysch 22.0 8.2 7.8 24 <<  
07/20 00:40 Ob ups. Irtysch 21.4 8.5 7.7 14 <<  
07/24 14:15 Tundra stream 10.0 10.0 6.8 8    
07/26 23:00 Ob mouth 19.4 9.4 7.9 13    

In places, only plants with leaves at the water surface can succeed.

During the expedition, the Tom and the Ob river were sometimes also biologically investigated. Thus, first significant traces of pollution could already be discovered downstream of Novokusnez; here the Tom can still be classified as oligosaprobic only in some places, as was the case upstream of Novokusnez. Stoneflies, typical for oligosaprobic conditions, can still be found downstream until Kemerovo. Downstream of Kemerovo, the river, however, turns beta-mesosaprobic and downstream of Tomsk it is even alpha-mesosaprobic. In the middle section of the Ob, the river-bed is mostly of sand or silt. This is one of the important reasons why biological colonization has hardly taken place. An additional reason for the poor colonization is that oxygen level decreases to 0 mg/L during the period of ice cover. This was confirmed by different governmental water experts. The few organisms found in this river section indicated that the biological state is beta-mesosaprobic.

The main problem of the river is however, anthropogenic harmful substances, especially halogenated organic compounds (Van der NAALD et al. 1992). These chemicals are toxic even in the trace range of concentration (enrichment in food chains). In this concentration range they do not, or at least not significantly, influence the saprobity.

4.3 Anthropogenic influences

Besides the immission of anthropogenic harmful substances, Tom and Ob are also influenced by further human activities. First of all, a dam project should be mentioned which was planned 180 km upstream from Kemerovo. The construction was first started and then stopped again. The main purpose was to provide a water supply for industrial use. The planned height of the dam was 50 m forming a reservoir 20 to 30 km wide and would have an effect as far back as Novokusnez. The calculated water volume was 7 Mill. cb. km. Huge surfaces would have been flooded and the evacuation of villages was already started.

As to be expected, the project is heavily disputed. Civil initiatives came up and expertises were ordered by the opposing parties. It is quite clear which disadvantages are standing in front of the alleged economic advantages: flooding of valuable land areas (for agriculture, forestry and villages), erosion from the land side, important sedimentation effects in the reservoir, building of algae and organic mud, inhibition of fish migration etc., falling water levels downstream from the reservoir, influence on climate etc. Within the total further courses of the rivers Tom and Ob as far as the mouth, gravel and sand is dug up, mainly from the river-bed, but also from the rest of the valley. Because of this, turbidity is between 2.5 and 8 times higher than before (JURAKOVA 1990). This causes negative effects on the biological settlement which is proved by investigations of WISER and ENSCHINA (1990) and JURAKOVA (1990). Due to the depression of the river bed, the water level falls both in the river itself and in the surrounding ground water. This has further biological consequences, which should not be discussed here in detail.

All cited reasons together have led to a significant decrease in the fish population and in fishing.

5. Consequences

Environmental impacts and damages established in Western Siberia can be differentiated depending on their importance:

The consequences of the affects discovered in the Kuzbass can be seen in the above-mentioned report. In central and north-western Siberia, nature and man still suffer from the effects of impacts from the south because the river transports harmful substances from the south down to the polar sea. In this context halogenated organics must be mentioned first. They can be enriched in food chains, of which the last link is often to humans themselves. When highly polluted water floods the swamps, the consequences - e.g. for drinking water supply and nourishment (fish) - for tribespeople must be taken into account. After the Arctic Sea is polluted, the oceans as well as the atmosphere (pollutants coming from south) can also be loaded. That is why the demand for an improved protection of the environment is globally well-founded.

The devastation discovered in the central and northern part of Western Siberia is particularly serious for various reasons:

Table 9: Comparison of carbon reserves in Gigatonnes (Gt) in the total of organic substances, in biomass and in dead organic material in Gt (ZAVARZIN 1991)

nature area:

total of C stock


dead organic material

tropical rain forest




temperate zone forest 








moss swamps








cultivated soils




In this list about 90 % of the known biological systems are represented. The share of the swamps from the total of C stock is 42 %, 2/3 of all swamps are in the former USSR, Scandinavia and Canada each containing a further 14%. In 92 % of these swamp areas, between 0.26 and 5.18 Gt C are fixed. Recent estimates give the figure of 2 Gt C of which 1.3 Gt are in the USSR. Figure 3 shows the proportions once more graphically.

For the quantification of this influence, the total swamp area plays an important role. Various figures for swamp areas are given for the whole world as well as for particular continents, as swamp areas merge with forest areas (see table 10). For the former Soviet Union ZAVARZIN gives a more restrictive estimation of the area, this is 715 000 sq. km. A further 2 Mill. sq. km must be added into the calculation if one includes areas of swampy forests.

comparison,   9 kB

Fig. 3: comparison of carbon reserves in different vegetation types of the earth in gigatons (Gt)(after ZAVARZIN 1991)(trop.=tropical, for=forest)

Table 10: comparison of the net primary production of different vegetation types (according to WHITTAKER and LIKENS 1975)

vegetation type

surface (global)
in Mill. sq. km

net primary production in mg/sq. dm x h

trees of tropical rain forest  

6 – 24

tropical rain forest



boreal forests (temperate zone)




up to 3

swamp plants  

20 – 40

swamp and marshes


10 - 60

Taking a simple period of growth of at least 100 days, a daily minimum of 16 hours of photosynthesis and the lowest value from the list above of 10 mg/sq. dm x h, a result is reached that is similar to ZAVARZIN’s figure for the former Soviet Union (1.3 Gt/a).

Per sq. m and for one year ZAVARSIN also gives the following figures:
--- respiration of swamps: 80g C
--- net growth: 370 g C, corresponding to an increase in biomass: between --- 430 and 740 g/ sq. m x a.

Also these figures are in the deviation range cited in table 10. If one includes swamps located in forests, the total of carbon bound per year should be, very roughly, 4 Gt.

The consideration of C02-cycles is of special importance because 55 % of the greenhouse effect is due to C02 (ibid., cited in LEGGETT 1990). The anthropogenic release of CO2 through the use of fossil fuels is today estimated to be more than 5 Gt and 2 Gt by cuts of forests (yearly average increase 0.5 %). CO2 depressions (sinks) such as vegetation and oceans hold back about 4 Gt C (SCHNEIDERS 1989, cited in accordance to LEGGETT 1990).

On the basis of ZAVARIN’s assumption, cited above, the figures of CO2 release and fixation should be vised. In both cases there is no doubt that the swamps exceed other ecosystems in the long term in relation to their importance for the atmosphere. It is also certain that its destruction must lead to a significant deterioration of the greenhouse problem: the yearly amount of damaged swamp area according to cautious official estimates is
10 000 sq. km. Triple this value would seem to be more realistic. (As mentioned in chapter 2.3.2, "Moscow News" even calculated the volume of spilled oil to be 5 times higher than the officials.) If the yearly amount of destroyed swamps was really 30 000 sq. km, this would already correspond to 4 % of the actual area. The reduction of C fixation would already, after 5 years, correspond to a value which exceeds the anthropogenic emissions. Even when official estimates are more realistic than one would think, the situation is already serious enough. Besides this, as described above, oil exploitation leads to other considerable incisions in the countrysides.

Nevertheless the importance of swamps for the greenhouse effect has hardly been considered. The real extend of the problem can only badly be estimated. First of all, it must be taken into account that the increase of the C02 concentration is coupled to a huge variety of feedback reactions, e.g. the distribution of precipitation can change. A change of the precipitation and evaporation rate will have, in any case, negative consequences for the greenhouse effect: with increasing rain rates, swamps would become more wet and the underground more anaerobic. Consequently, a huge quantity of methane is in danger of being released into the atmosphere. Lower rates would cause the increasing death of swamp vegetation and therefore the further reduction of the C02 fixation.

How much more methane is released under various conditions such as oil pollution or increasing wetness, can not yet be quantified. It cannot be doubted, however, that methane contributes up to 19 % of the greenhouse effect (HEINRICH and HERGT 1991) and that this amount will increase significantly if the destruction of the swamps goes on unrestrictedly.

Counter-measures against the destruction of the swamps are scarce and in most cases only on paper. In order to avoid the corrosion of oil pipes, corrosion inhibitors are added (see above) but the efficiency of this measure is still doubtful.

It is also planned to construct a new factory in order to enamel the tubes, but this process is connected with the production of problematic waste water which will probably be discharged into the environment. In each case it seems that WOLFSON^s prognosis of 1983, that up to 40% of Siberia will be contaminated with oil could become reality, at least for central Western Siberia. Within this context one has, of course, to take into consideration that a larger part of the problem is located in the underground. Above the surface only the top of the iceberg can be seen.

Similar arguments are also pertinent to the north, the area of the tundra. The destruction of a huge natural area is only one part of the problem. An important impact is given here, as well, by atmospheric gas imissions with the consequences described above.

So far "counter-measures" have been restricted to new laws and order only. The very problem which is given by emissions and consumption of natural land cannot be avoided in this way and can never be repaired.

Summarizing all the facts and arguments given until now, we have to point out that an environmental catastrophe is going to become a reality in central and northern Siberia. This catastrophe comes insidiously, is barely noticed and is certainly not understood by the responsible representatives of state and industry. Within this context the local pollution is already severe enough, but the problem can get worse with the global disturbance of gas exchange between the bio and atmosphere. Therefore this problem is much more critical and forces strong political action to end it. This is also especially relevant to the highly industrialized countries of the West with their high need of fossil energy fuel. In each case, the first target must be the reduction of atmospheric impacts by which humanity endangers itself. The inconsiderate exploitation of organic fossil reserve sites is a crime against nature and future generations.

6. Literature

ARCHIPOW, W.S., SMOLJANINIW, S.I. and MASLOW, S.G. (1990): Podchody k oswojeniju krupnych bolotnych system (variants of lock off of big swamp systems) - Tomsk staate university, Tomsk (ISBN 5 7511 - 0404 - 4; russ.)

BASANOW, B.A. and LGOTINA, B.A. (1990): Nekotorie ossobenosti proischoschdenija i rasbitija werchowich bolot Ob-irtyskovo meschduretschija. – man and water, p. 80, Tomsk

DURRELL, L. et al. (1987): GAIA - Atlas zur Rettung unserer Erde. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag Frankfurt/M

Enquete-Kommission des 11. Dt. Bundestages (1988): Schutz der Erdatmosphaere - Eine internationale Herausforderung. Zwischenbericht 5/88, Ed.: Deutscher Bundestag, Referat Oeffentlichkeitsarbeit, Bonn

GEO magazine, 9, from August, 26, 1991

GERASCO, L.I. (1990): swamp soils of the northern part of plateaus in the area of the Ob and processes of their evolution. - Tomsk (russ.)

Van der NAALD, W., HOFFMANN, M., JOHNSTON, P. und TROENDLE, Simone (1992) : Environmental Pollution in the Kuzbass, Siberia - a Greenpeace Report, Amsterdam, 25 S.

GUARDIAN from August, 23, 1991

HEINRICH, D: and HERGT, M. (1991): DTV-Atlas zur Oekologie, Dt. Taschenbuch Verl. Muenchen

HUBER, Maria and SCHMIDT-HAeUER, C. (1991): Die Katastrophe in der Kaelte. – DIE ZEIT 35 from August, 23, 1991

HUBER, W. and HUBER, A. in: HOCK, B. and ELSTNER, E.F. (Ed.) (1988): Schadwirkungen auf Pflanzen. – 2. edit., p. 123 – 126, BI-Wiss.-Verl. BI-Wiss.-Verl.

JURAKOVA, T.W. (1990): Wlijanije raswabotok nerudnich stroitelbinich materialow na wosiroiswodstwo rib reki tomi. in: Naturkomplex Tomsk Oblasti, Tomsk (ISBN 5-7511-0404-4)

LARCHER, W. (1984): Oekologie der Pflanzen. - 4. ed., E. Ulmer Verl.

LEGGETT, J. (Ed.) (1990): Global warming - The GREENPEACE report. - Oxford University press

MARCINEK, J, and ROSENKRANZ, E. (1989): Das Wasser der Erde. publ. H. Deutsch

MOTE, V.L. (1990): Environmental constraints to the economic development of Siberia. - in: Soviet natural resources in the world economy; ed. by JENSEN, R.G.,SHABAD, T.,and WRIGHT, A.W., Houston, USA

SPIRINA, B.S. and IGNATENKO, N.A. (1990): Charakteristika na sewernom predele areala. – in: Naturkomplex Tomsk Oblasti, Tomsk (ISBN 5-7511-0404-4)

TASS from 09/02/88: Yamal: The Nature of the North should be saved, part 1 and 2

TSCHOMTSCHOEW, A. (1991): Tschernie usriwi- ecologitscheskaja karta. - Sewernie prostori, 39, p. 13

TYUMINSKAJA PROKURATURA (1991): Characteristics of the ecological state of the Tyumen Oblast - manuscript, unpublished

WALTER, H. (1977): Vegetationszonen und Klima. - 3. edit., publ. Ulmer Stuttgart, Germany

WEISE, O.R. (1983): Das Periglazial - Geomorphologie und Klima in gletscherfreien, kalten Regionen. – 199 p., Gebr. Borntraeger, Berlin, Stuttgart

WEISH, P. and GRUBER, E. (1986): Radioaktivitaet und Umwelt. - 3. Aufl., 206 p., G. Fischer, Stuttgart, New York

WISER, A.M. and ENSCHINA, C.A. (1990): Wlijanije wiborki grunta is ribochosjaistwennich wodoemow basseina srednei obi na hydrobiontow. - in: man and water, p. 91, Tomsk

WOLFSON, Z. (1983); The environmental risk of the developing oil and gas industry in Western Siberia. - Research paper no. 52, Jerusalem, 21 p.

ZAVARZIN, G.A. (1991): Ismenenie klimata - naiwisschii ekologitscheski risk – (the climatic change – the biggest environmental risk) unpublished manuscript of the Microbiological Institute of Academy of Science, Moscow

For oral communication and information I have to thank especially:

  1. BORDUNOV, Dr. Vladimir V., Tomsk, Inst. of petrolchemistry
  2. BABIN, N.A., Dir. of Sovkhoz, Agro-Prod. Comm., Tyumen Obl.
  3. KARPOW, Wasilij Konstantiniwitsch, chiefforester Tomsk Obl.
  4. KAZNIN, Jura, deputy of Supreme Soviet in 1991, Kemerovo
  5. KELMIN, Egor R., President of Association Surgut Section Chanti-Mantsi, Surgut
  6. LASARJEV, Konstantin Eduardowitsch
  7. LEBEDEV, E.V., destrict inspektion Salechard
  8. LVOV, J.A., Prof.,(Inst. of Biology, University, Tomsk)
  9. MESCHERJAKOV, Oleg, TIRI company, Tomsk
  10. NOWIKOV, V.P., Chanti-Mansiik
  11. OREOVA, T. u. OREOV, W., inst. of Biology, University Tomsk
  12. PANTELEJEV, Anatolij G., chiefingenieur Tomsk
  13. SACHAROW, Vladimir lwanowitsch, Committeee of nature protection, Chanti-Mansiik
  14. SMOLJAKOV, O.A., Tomsk
  15. TSCHASCHTSCHIN, Vitali Iwanowitsch, Committeee of nature protection, Workuta
  16. VOROBIEV, Prof. Vladislav N., Inst. of Ecol. of Nat. Complexes, Tomsk Complexes, Tomsk

The investigations were carried out in cooperation with the chemist Wytze van der Naald, Greenpeace Netherlands, Amsterdam. The original German Text was translated in cooperation with Beryl Alabaster and Michael Calderbank, Greenpeace International.

For planning and organization I would like to thank: on the Russian side, "ECO-EX-KOMPANIE" represented by the journalist Viktor Kostjukowski and Wladimir Suchatski, and Dr. Jura Kaznin - on the West European side M. Gerard Jacobs, journalist and many other people who contributed to the success of the expedition as interpreters or supporters.

Author: Dr. M. Hoffmann
e-mail: ILES@

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addendum: we recommend to read this article: Warming hits 'tipping point'

Siberia feels the heat It's a frozen peat bog the size of France and Germany combined, contains billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas and, for the first time since the ice age, it is melting

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday August 11, 2005
Browse the archive of  The Guardian <>


Description of methods, hints and materials in English and Ukrainian or Russian:

- information on GIS and GIS-based models  (English overview extended version / Ukrainian)

- sampling sheets (protocols) and analyses (Eng & Ukr.)

About ILES:

- overview on field and lab investigations (also in Russian)

- just ask us