Satellites photograph massive diesel disaster in the Arctic

Satellites photograph massive diesel disaster in the Arctic
Satellites photograph massive diesel disaster in the Arctic . Image: AP

Last week things went well, at a power plant located near the Siberian city of Norilsk. A fuel tank ruptured and a large amount of diesel leaked into the Ambarnaya River. Images taken by satellites from the European space agency now reveal the true scale of the disaster.

The images show that diesel – the dark red substance in the picture – has already polluted a large part of the river, and is slowly being carried away by the water.

Image: based on Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

By now, diesel had already been found about 12 kilometres away from where the fuel was leaking. According to Greenpeace Russia, a total of 20,000 tonnes of diesel have been released and it is the biggest environmental disaster ever to have occurred in the Arctic Circle.

Although research is still being carried out into the cause of the disaster, it seems – ironically – that climate change is playing a role. The burning of fossil fuels – such as oil and its diesel – releases CO2 and heats up the earth. That’s how the sea ice melts away. And the permafrost – a normally permanently frozen layer of earth – also thaws. This can cause the soil to become unstable and sag. And it probably caused the fuel tank to rupture and cause the diesel to leak out.

Exactly what impact the release of this huge amount of diesel will have on the area is still unclear. Greenpeace’s first fears for the life of the fish in the Ambarnaya River. Especially near the power plant, the concentration of diesel is so high that no fish are likely to survive. But also birds that try to land on the river and animals that drink from the river can be affected by the diesel.

It is not the first and certainly not the last time that oil (products) are released in the Arctic. However, the amount of diesel that has been leaked this time is enormous. According to Greenpeace, the damage runs into the billions.