A study of trees in Norilsk showed that the Arctic is heavily polluted

An international team of researchers led by the University of Cambridge merged measurements

ring width and chemical composition of wood onliving and dead trees with soil characteristics and computer simulations. This allowed them to demonstrate that the damage done by decades of nickel and copper mining not only harmed local people and the environment, but also affected the global carbon cycle and pollution in the Arctic.

The extent of the damage done to northern forests, the largest terrestrial biome on Earth, can be seen in the tree growth rings near Norilsk, where the dieback has spread over 100 kilometers.

Norilsk in the north of Siberia is the northernmost cityin a world with a population of over 100,000 and one of the most polluted places on Earth. Since the 1930s, intensive development of huge deposits of nickel, copper and palladium in the area, combined with low environmental regulations, have resulted in severe levels of pollution. The massive oil spill in May 2020 also caused severe environmental damage in the area.

Not only is the high level of emissions inthe atmosphere from the industrial complex in Norilsk has led to the direct destruction of about 24,000 square kilometers of boreal forest since the 1960s, and surviving trees in most of the northern latitudes have also suffered. The high level of pollution leads to a slowdown in their growth, which in turn affects the amount of carbon that can be absorbed in northern forests.

Using the largest set everdata from tree rings of living and dead trees to reconstruct the history and intensity of extinction of the Norilsk forests, researchers have shown how emissions from mines and metallurgical enterprises into the atmosphere are at least partially responsible for the phenomenon of "Arctic blackout".

Arctic Blackout is a phenomenon caused byan increase in the amount of particulate matter in the Earth's atmosphere, be it pollution, dust or volcanic eruptions. This phenomenon partially blocks sunlight, slowing down the evaporation process and disrupting the hydrological cycle.

“Using information stored in thousandstree rings, we can see the consequences of an uncontrolled environmental disaster in Norilsk over the past nine decades, ”concludes Professor Ulf Büntgen of the Cambridge Faculty of Geography, who led the study. "While the problem of sulfur emissions and deforestation has been successfully addressed in most of Europe, for Siberia we were unable to see what the impact was, mainly due to the lack of long-term monitoring data."

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