Arctic Circle Oil Spill Moving Through Ambarnaya River Seen From Space

The oil spill in the Arctic Circle is so extensive it can be seen from space, with images released by the European Space Agency (ESA) showing the Ambarnaya River crimson red. Around 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil spilled into the river after a fuel tank at a power plant collapsed on May 29.

Russia declared a state of emergency in the Krasnoyarsk Region over the spill from the Nornickel thermoelectric plant in Norilsk on June 3. Three criminal proceedings have been launched in relation to the spill, Russia's state news agency TASS said.

arctic oil spill
Images from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission showing the Arctic oil spill. The images were taken on May 23, May 31 and June 1. ESA

Satellite images from the ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission have shown the leaked oil traveling from the accident site, having moved around 7.5 miles between May 31 and June 1. Copernicus Sentinel-2 comprises two polar-orbiting satellites. They monitor changes to land-surface conditions, making regular passes over the same area. This allows scientists to closely monitor changes to bodies of water in the region.

According to TASS, a clean-up operation is currently underway to remove the oil from the river, which flows into Lake Pyasino. Workers told the news agency the fuel spill has now been contained.

TASS reports that Sergey Dyachenko, first vice president and chief operating officer of Nornickel, said the oil could be removed in 14 days, but weather conditions would play a role. "The wind changes very often and it would be good if the wind was driving this oil stain towards the booms. This would ensure a more efficient collection [of fuel spill]. But the wind sometimes blows in the opposite direction."

However, Vladimir Chuprov, project director of the Russian Greenpeace, said it is unlikely the oil from the spill will ever be removed. "With the help of installed booms, only a small fraction of the pollution can be collected, so it can be argued that almost all diesel fuel will remain in the environment," he said in a statement.

On Thursday, Greenpeace Russia said the accident has caused huge environmental damage. It said no fish in the accident zone will survive. Birds that feed on the water and animals in it will also be affected. "Diesel will settle to the bottom and pollute a significant area during floods," it added in a statement.

A catastrophe is taking place right before our eyes. The diesel spill in Norilsk has become the first accident of such a scale in the Arctic. 20 thousand tonnes of diesel fuel have been spilled in local rivers.

— Greenpeace Russia (@greenpeaceru) June 4, 2020

On Twitter, the organization said: "A catastrophe is taking place right before our eyes. The diesel spill in Norilsk has become the first accident of such a scale in the Arctic."

Dmitry Klokov, spokesperson for Russia's Federal Fisheries Agency, said the extent of the damage was unknown at present. However, he said it is already clear that "restoring the ecological balance of the affected Norilo-Pyasinsky water system will take decades."

"The scale of the disaster is underestimated," TASS quotes him as saying.