Russia’s Arctic resources plunder continues as ice melts at alarming speed 

Russia’s Arctic resources plunder continues as ice melts at alarming speed 

European satellite research suggests Russian glaciers and ice caps in two Arctic archipelagos are annually leaking enough meltwater to fill almost 5 million Olympic swimming pools. 

It is estimated that between 2010 and 2018 enough water leaked from two large archipelagos that border the Kara Sea to submerge the entire Netherlands under 2 metres of water.

A University of Edinburgh team used the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 research satellite to study the surface height and mass of ice caps and glaciers.

A comparison with climate data exposed the link between higher atmospheric and ocean temperatures and melting ice in the Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya archipelagos.

The archipelagos covering approximately 130,000 square kilometres lost 11.4 billion tonnes of ice annually from 2010 and 2018.

Some glaciers store 12,000-year-old ice, potentially providing valuable long-term information about the Arctic climate.

Lead author Dr Paul Tepes of the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh said: “The Russian Arctic is largely inaccessible but satellite data has enabled us to monitor changes to its ice caps and glaciers. As has been observed elsewhere in the world, ice loss in the region is accelerating. As the climate continues to warm, significant ice loss in the Russian Arctic will have clear impacts for sea-level rise.”

More icebreakers 

Rather than acting to address the crisis in its frozen north, Russia continues to increasingly exploit the Arctic’s resources as melting ice reveals more natural riches. 

Russian metals mining firm Nornickel said it will help Russian agencies develop a dual-fuel LNG (liquefied natural gas) and diesel-powered icebreaker to help break through melting ice in its Arctic waters. 

Russia, which uses nuclear-powered icebreakers, has long looked to LNG-fuelled icebreakers to cut through the Northeast Sea Route, which is thawing because of the climate crisis.

Nornickel said it will work with Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom, which controls the icy route, and Moscow’s state-run oil firm Rosneft. 

They plan to design and build the LNG icebreakers to escort shipping to international Arctic waters when the route ices up between November to June. 

Nornickel sees LNG – natural gas super-chilled to be transported in liquid form – as less environmentally harmful than diesel, which is also more difficult to store.

Nornickel, the world’s biggest palladium and nickel producer, paid out US$2 billion after 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into rivers and the ground from one of its power plants last year. 


Russia continues to exploit the vast Arctic. Picture credit:


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