New Satellite Images Show Arctic River Turned Red From Diesel Spill


The diesel spill is not believed to have reached the body of water but confirmation will depend on laboratory testing. Greenpeace Russia

Newly released satellite images show the extensive damage caused by a 20,000-tonne (22,000-ton) diesel spill that took place earlier this week in the Arctic Circle, prompting a state of emergency declaration by Russian officials.

Captured by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, the animation shows crimson-colored diesel oil winding its way through the Ambarnaya River on May 31 and the following day – two days after a diesel fuel tank owned by Nornickel, the world’s largest nickel producer, reportedly leaked on May 29, IFLScience reported at the time. Following the leak, a vehicle driving into the spill site ignited a fire.


“Diesel fuel is more toxic than the oil, and at the moment the circumstances appeared to be as massive as we can’t expect the efficient level of clean-up without contributions from Federal level, said Alexey Knizhnikov with WWF-Russia in a statement. “I’d like to remind that according to legislation of Russian Federation, oil spills exceeding 5,000 tonnes (5,511 tons) – are the Federal level concern.”


Anatoly Tsykalov, deputy prime minister of the Krasnoyarsk Region government, told reporters that the spill is not believed to have reached the body of water but confirmation will depend on laboratory testing. Diesel has leaked into the environment and polluted water and soil in the area. Three criminal cases have been launched on “charges of land deterioration, water pollution, and violation of environmental protection rules,” reports the Russian News Agency.

Contaminants found in the surrounding waters are tens of thousands above permissible levels and at least 252 people and 72 vehicles are reportedly working on cleaning the area. As of June 5, Nornickel reports that a total of 6,730 tonnes (7,400 tons) of contaminated soil and 400 tonnes (440 tons) of diesel fuel has been “gathered up” from the surrounding area, as well as 136 tonnes (150 tons) of diesel fuel from the surface of the river. Environmentalists argue that isn’t enough.

“If we apply the methodology of the Ministry of Natural Resources for the assessment of environmental damage to water bodies, the damage could amount to more than 6 billion rubles. And this is without taking into account the increasing factors,” said Vladimir Chuprov, project director of the Russian Greenpeace. “With the help of installed booms, only a small fraction of the pollution can be collected, so it can be argued that almost all diesel fuel will remain in the environment.”


The Ambarnaya River is an important tributary of the Kara Sea and has been identified as a key climate indicator when it comes to measuring carbon released from plant and soil matter in the Arctic, notes NASA Earth Observatory. The former Soviet Union once dumped nuclear waste and materials into the shallow sea near Novaya Zemlya, yet a 1992 report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency found that leakage from “dumped wastes has been small, with negligible doses when compared with those from natural sources.”

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