The experience gained by Norilsk Nickel and Gazprom is expected to help in creating an effective geotechnical monitoring system in the Arctic

The experience gained by Norilsk Nickel and Gazprom is expected to help in creating an effective geotechnical monitoring system in the Arctic

Expert Reports  

The state background monitoring of the permafrost carried out by the Russia’s Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) network that provides for the automatic and non-automatic modes at existing observation points, unfortunately, does not allow obtaining a detailed picture of the processes in the Arctic soils. This was stated by Gennady Ordenov, a member of the Federation Council Committee for Agrarian and Food Policy and Environmental Management, during the panel discussion held to work out a comprehensive system of geotechnical monitoring of the environment in the Arctic zone of Russia. According to him, the main degradation of permafrost occurs in those places where buildings, structures, and linear objects are located. 

“It is imperative that the state of permafrost is taken into account during their operation. Therefore, the background monitoring as well as the geotechnical monitoring of engineering facilities and areas under construction are required to ensure the operational reliability and industrial safety, environmental protection, and to minimize the environmental damage from economic activities,” the senator believes.

According to the experts from the Eastern Center for State Planning, the changes in temperature in the Arctic are the fastest on the planet, and the temperature has risen by two degrees over the past 50 years. Melting permafrost poses environmental, economic and social risks. Today, over 40 percent of buildings in the permafrost zone are deformed. In the city of Vorkuta, the number of deformed buildings is 80 percent, followed by Chita and Magadan (60 and 55 percent, respectively), Amderma (50 percent), Dikson (35 percent), and Tiksi (22 percent). In Yakutsk and Norilsk, the number of deformed buildings is about 9-10 percent. The residential buildings are under threat and there are risks to infrastructure facilities, including roads, pipelines, and fuel-and-power sector.

An important role in preventing these risks is played by monitoring activities carried out by major companies, including Gazprom, Rosneft, Transneft, Russian Railways, and Norilsk Nickel. Ilya Chernov, Director of the Department for Development of the Arctic Zone and the Implementation of Infrastructure Projects at the Ministry for Development of Russian Far East, said that the N. M. Fedorovsky Polar State University’s Research Center for Construction Technologies and Monitoring the Condition of Buildings and Structures in the Northern Arctic Areas was set up in Norilsk with the support of the Norilsk Nickel company, and it is operating successfully.

“The Research Center studies the state of permafrost under urban facilities, footings and foundations of buildings, as well as develops the construction technologies and operational safety in permafrost (multi-year frozen ground). To monitor changes in engineering and geological conditions, a year-round control station has been set up to monitor changes in the state of the Norilsk Nickel’s facilities in real time,” said the representative of the Ministry for Development of Russian Far East. He also added that the Comprehensive Plan for Social and Economic Development of the City of Norilsk approved by the Government stipulates the measures to thermally stabilize the soils under apartment buildings and social facilities. “The work is planned until 2035, and its financing is also provided from extra-budgetary sources, at the expense of the Norilsk Nickel company,” added Ilya Chernov.

The Norilsk Nickel’s pilot monitoring system was launched in 2021. Four priority monitoring zones have been identified, including the cities of Norilsk and Dudinka, the villages of Snezhnogorsk and Svetlogorsk. The plans are to equip 1,500 objects, including tanks, pipelines, production facilities and administrative buildings, and connect real-time sensors to the IDS system. In addition to sensors, the satellite images are used, and the analyses of the piles’ condition are carried out, as well as geodetic surveys and well drilling.

Ilya Chernov also focused on the experience of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (Okrug), where the Scientific Center for Arctic Studies, jointly with the Gazprom company, is implementing the Automated Geocryological Monitoring System project that is set to create a dynamically changing map of the state of permafrost in the Arctic region. To monitor the state of soils, more than 200 wells with a total length of over 2 thousand meters have been drilled in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District since 2018 under 35 capital facilities, and about 1,000 soil samples have been taken to be studied in the laboratory. The monitoring of key roads and bridges is also in progress. The regional permafrost monitoring network includes 80 thermometric wells and 10 sites for monitoring the depth of seasonal soil thawing near cities and towns in the Arctic.

Igor Zaitsev, Deputy Head of the Roshydromet said that the monitoring solutions used by Gazprom and Norilsk Nickel were effective, and the Roshydromet’s experts worked in close cooperation with the companies’ colleagues.

According to Elena Zlenko, Co-Chairwoman of the Expert Council under the Upper House of Parliament’s Committee for Agro-Industrial Complex and Environmental Management, a large number of state, regional and corporate monitoring systems have been already set up, which makes it possible to obtain reliable information about the state of permafrost. However, this array of data is fragmented, diverse, and difficult to be processed and interpreted to obtain an overall picture of the state of permafrost and expected changes in it. The expert believes, that ideally, it is necessary to be able to combine this data and analyze it jointly with the experts on the subject from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

According to Georgy Shulgin, Deputy Director of the Department for Development of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data under the Ministry for Digital Technology, Communication and Mass Media of the Russian Federation, this problem can be partially solved by creating the Federal State Information System for Environmental Monitoring. The system will include the information obtained by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Roshydromet during various environmental monitoring activities. By the end of the first quarter of 2025, the first stage of the system aimed at monitoring the atmospheric air is expected to be launched. In the longer term, it will accumulate data on water bodies and forests, land, wildlife, radiation levels, as well as the state of permafrost (multi-year frozen ground).

To intensify monitoring activities and systematize the monitoring data obtained in the Arctic, Senator from the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District Vladimir Pushkaryov proposed to take the experience of the Arctic regions and the corporations operating in the Arctic into account to form a unified monitoring system throughout the entire Arctic zone of Russia. He stressed the need to work out a federal law aimed at the development and implementation of a comprehensive system for monitoring the state of permafrost, determining the parameters for monitoring and forms of the interaction and control over its implementation and the operation of buildings and structures.