To Forewarn and to Forearm: Project 5-100 Universities Engage in Environmental Monitoring and CleanupJune 22, 2020
Project 5-100 institutions are among the Russian universities most actively involved in the ongoing operation to clean up a major diesel oil spill near the Arctic city of Norilsk. Ecologists fr om Siberian Federal University (SibFU) have helped the local authorities to assess water and soil contamination. They will now proceed to model how the leak may affect water bodies in the area and, if needed, draw up a list of rehabilitation measures. Tomsk State University (TSU) has offered expert advice and the more than 20 tried-and-tested, patented devices and technologies for removing crude oil and petroleum products from water that it has developed in collaboration with an industry partner, Manotom.
In addition to disaster management tools, universities are designing early-warning systems that monitor and predict changes in the environment. Biologists from the University of Tyumen's X-BIO Institute and Ogarev Mordovia State University have studied the Red Lists of almost 60 Russian regions to find out how human activities impact plant diversity. The greatest danger to rare plant species appears to be posed by habitat destruction, cattle grazing, urbanization and hydrological regime changes.
To keep track of woodland biodiversity in the northern parts of West Siberia, which is home to extensive mining operations, another University of Tyumen team has designed a model that uses dynamic curves of tree stand density and larch cone crops to evaluate the impact of natural and human factors on the ecosystem (the larch is the primary forest-forming species in the region).
Researchers from SibFU and the Russian Academy of Sciences have worked together to produce software that automates the measuring of tree ring cells. The application, now freely available on the university's website, puts a valuable climate change analysis tool at the disposal of a wide range of experts, including environmentalists.
Also at SibFU, researchers are harnessing artificial intelligence to detect damage to conifers caused by insect pests. A neural network, boasting a recognition rate of up to 97% and a detection speed of less than 30 seconds per image, uses drone footage to identify damage stages. Demand for the product is expected to come from industry, research institutions and environmental watchdogs.
University of Tyumen geographers are taking on another enemy to timber, wildfires. Using field observations and satellite-based images spanning 1985-2018, they have estimated the annual acreage burnt in the West Siberian forest-tundra wh ere wildfires can be particularly deleterious due to fragile vegetation and the proximity of giant gas fields. They have also calculated wildfire periodicities, which vary from 15 to 60 years for different areas.
TSU is carrying out a large-scale project to systematize West Siberian soil types, with its BioGeoClim lab building up a soil image collection dubbed Photosoil. The images will be used to predict soil change, including degradation, for both scientific and practical purposes, e. g. in agriculture. Already parts of Photosoil are freely accessible online, and the compilers hope that naturalists and soil scientists will use the new site to post their own soil pictures.
While its Siberian peers are strongly focused on the taiga and tundra biomes, the westernmost of the Project 5-100 institutions, the Kaliningrad-based Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University (IKBFU), has been involved in an international project to gauge pollution levels at both Russian and Lithuanian beaches of the Curonian Spit. The team's findings show that macroplastic pollution is greatest at the Lithuanian port city of Klaipėda, whereas microplastics are more evenly distributed across the study area. IKBFU experts call for applying a variety of techniques to count microplastics in order to arrive at a more accurate assessment of the environmental damage and make an informed decision on how to reduce pollution along the Baltic Sea coast.
Several of the projects described above have received funding from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and other institutions.