Drone captures Arctic ice cracking abnormally early near isolated city

·3 min read

Near a Russian town that sits more than a degree and a half above the Arctic Circle, aerial footage captured over the last weekend of May showed fractured sheets of ice moving through the Yenisey River after the ice drift began about a month ahead of schedule.

An abnormally warm spring near the site where the footage was captured, in the vicinity of the town of Dudinka located in Russia's Krasnoyarsk region, is the reason for the early start to the ice drift, according to Ruptly. The town serves as a port for Norilsk, a city about 50 miles to the east, which is the second-largest city north of the Arctic Circle and the northernmost city in the world with more than 100,000 inhabitants.

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Due to their location above the Arctic Circle, Dudinka and Norilsk are prone to mild summers and extremely frigid winters, with the river's annual thaw providing a short window for the shipping industry to operate.

"They have a narrow window to ship goods in and out of the area, using ocean-going ships," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews said. "Norilsk is a mining and refining hub for one of the most valuable mineral deposits on Earth. Shipping the output is essential for the region, as is bringing in supplies. Ice-out is thus a critical date."

The nickel deposits near Norilsk are the largest-known nickel-copper-palladium deposits on Earth, according to NASA, and the mining and smelting of nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum and palladium are the major industries of the area. However, the smelting is directly responsible for severe pollution, NASA notes, and, by some estimates, 1% of the entire global emissions of sulfur dioxide come from this one city.

"Heavy metal pollution near Norilsk is so severe that it is now economically feasible to mine the soil, which has been polluted so severely that it has economic grades of platinum and palladium," according to NASA.

Both Dudinka and Norilsk are considered "closed cities," or a city with specific restrictions over who is authorized to visit or remain overnight. In the case of these two cities, foreign travel to them is restricted. There are currently 44 publicly acknowledged closed cities in Russia.

There is no available weather data for Dudinka, but data from Norilsk shows that the month of May 2021 was 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The previous year's May was even warmer at 14.2 degrees above normal, according to Andrews.

Locals took the opportunity to see the ice drift and snap photos with the bravest of the bunch edging closer to the river bank where blocks of ice formed bizarre figures, according to Ruptly.

The ice over the Yenisey River began thawing a month earlier than usual near a town that sits just above the Arctic Circle. (Ruptly)

The Yenisey River is the world's sixth-largest river in terms of discharge, the Amazon River ranking first, and like the Nile, the Yenisey flows from south to north.

"Rivers answer to gravity, not the compass," Andrews said. "A look at north Asia on the map shows that the coast is to the north (Arctic Ocean) with land to the south. Thus, downslope is south to north. Rivers can flow in any direction, as long as they respect the law of gravity."

He added that Siberian rivers "ice-out" from south to north, as that is the normal progression of spring.

"This can happen as a flood surge that bulldozes the ice -- which can be many feet thick -- out of the way, stripping the banks bare well above normal water line," Andrews said.

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