Most problems that people need to deal with, starting with climate change and ending with the coronavirus pandemic, are man-made. People create global challenges and then heroically face up to them. Unfortunately, we do not see any direct connection between the events. This was something we proposed to discuss to Professor Sergey Kirpotin, Doctor of Biology, Director of the TSU Center of Excellence “BioClimLand”.
What are the most current environmental research conducted by the TSU scientists now?
There are several major environmental projects that are carried out at TSU right now. In some of them, we show a similar level of success like our international colleagues do. In some, we work ahead of the curve, proposing state-of-the-art research ideas.
First, we came up with an idea to consider Siberia a natural “mega-platform”. Its power and importance may be compared to the Large Hadron Collider. It is a unique place with the Vasyugan Swamp, the largest swamp in the northern hemisphere, a major reservoir of fresh water for the region. This place is a trap for carbon dioxide that has been collected by the ecosystems of the planet for millions of years. The Swamp functions as a refrigerator that regulates the global climate.
Our second idea is designing a mega-profile that is both an infrastructure and a newest approach to studying the environment. Many international projects aimed at researching natural processes, for example, T-MOSAiC, use it, and our international colleagues acknowledge our authorship. The idea of this approach is very interesting: it is not possible to limit the area of research by a particular place, studying some local natural processes. It is absolutely necessary to build a network and study the environment outside the region. Only this can help to understand the essence of local processes. For example, it is impossible to study the Arctic locally, regarding that it is a region that changes faster than all other world’s regions and has a huge impact on the global climate. It is vital to study the Arctic outside its borderlines. Our Siberian Ob River forms at the confluence of the Biya and Katun Rivers that have their origins in the Altay Mountains and flows into the Arctic Ocean. It literally brings along everything that it gathers on its way. It means that there is a major biogeochemical flow that forms in the South and influences the nature of the North.
Here is another interesting example: it turned out that “our” Asian anticyclone that forms in Siberia and Mongolia, influences monsoons and typhoons in the Asia-Pacific region. When our Japanese colleagues learned about it, they made the studies of the Siberian nature one of their priorities. Using the mega-profile approach, we created a network of research stations. Today, TSU is the only university whose three stations are part of the INTERACT international program.
What are the major ecological challenges the people of the world need to deal with? Is there a possibility for us to reverse some of the negative processes?
The most important thing is that the global temperature is really rising. Just like for people, it is a symptom that indicates illness. Global warming is a reality that cannot be contradicted by qualified sceptics any longer. However, they do not hurry to acknowledge its existence either. It is important to be aware that the main signal of global warming is not just temperature rising but a growing number of extreme weather conditions and catastrophes. Some experts call this type of climate “hysterical”.
Among other remarkable phenomena that we have been observing lately are anticyclones that stay for longer periods of time than they used to. Many people remember the summer of 2012 when anticyclone blocked the Atlantic air masses that were supposed to bring rains. A, so called, heat wave stroke and caused many terrible things, such as drought, fires, and people’s deaths. Another considerably new phenomenon is that air masses started moving along meridians instead of moving along latitudes. Therefore, cold air masses from the Arctic may make sharp turns to the South, collide with warm air and bring horrible consequences, such as tornadoes, hailstorms, and floods.
Now, many people watch movies about pandemics and other catastrophes but in reality we may face scenarios that can easily compete with Hollywood blockbusters. Global warming causes melting of the permafrost that preserves a variety of viable ancient microorganisms. Several years ago, in the Yamalo-Nenets region scientists contained an outbreak of the Siberian anthrax that had been kept in the top layer of the permafrost that contained the death spores. Along with reindeer moss, they were ingested by animals already weakened by the heat. It took a lot of joint efforts to stop the outbreak. But we could have faced a nightmare much more serious than the coronavirus pandemic.
People themselves have changed dramatically. Their immune system has been weakened by antibiotics. They got used to living in sterile conditions. Many are surprised by the fact that countries with better living conditions suffer from coronavirus more than countries with larger populations and worse hygienic standards. It is explained by the fact that people in the third world countries got used to various infections. Sterile environment kills the immune system. People need to deal with bad microorganisms so that they are able to develop resistance and survive.
As for the possibility to reverse some negative processes, sorry to say, it is impossible. Research is aimed at figuring out how we can slow them down and understanding the cause of all problems. And that can turn people toward a more environmentally friendly economy. There is a wrong belief that only rich countries can afford green economy because recycling and green technologies cost a lot. However, people must change their habits and start separating waste, saving electricity, and managing manufactures responsibly in the first place. As we see, it is not about finance, it is about changing our mentality, which is the most difficult thing to do.
(to be continued)