Vladimir P. Melnikov was elected Academician by the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The International Conference on Rhythms of Natural Processes in the Earth Cryosphere was held in Pushchino, 16-20 May 2000 (see details in introductory report). Highlights of several research topics and reports from institutes and university groups are presented in the following: David Gilichinsky and his colleagues from the Soil Cryology Laboratory, Institute of Physicochemical & Biological Problems in Soil Science, Russian Academy of Sciences (Pushchino) and Department of Soil Biology, Faculty of Soil Science, Moscow State University have demonstrated that permafrost has allowed the prolonged survival of ancient microbial life at subzero temperatures. Permafrost is characterised as a unique physical-chemical complex, which due to the unfrozen water films, maintains life longer than any other known habitat. Viable cells have been isolated from cores up to 400-m deep in the Canadian Arctic and at the lowest ground temperatures (-25ºC) in Antarctica. The oldest cells date back to 3 million years in north Siberia, and probably older in Antarctica. Upon thawing the microorganisms renew physiological activity and exposes ancient life to modern ecosystems. It is now possible for the first time to use actual viable organisms for the purposes of reconstructing a past environment.
Terrestrial permafrost, inhabited by cold-adapted microbes, can be considered as an extraterrestrial model. If life should be found to have existed during the early stages of the development of the Earth, then its traces may consist of primitive cryogenic forms within the extraterrestrial permafrost materials to be recovered from comets and Mars.
Permafrost sediments contains a tremendous mass of organic matter as well as viable methanogens which become activated and could produce additional methane in the event of permafrost thawing. Researchers at the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science find that large quantities of carbon as methane (up to 40 ml/kg) and carbon dioxide (up to 20 ml/kg) are preserved in the permafrost. Methane occurs in discrete layers that are determined by the age and genesis of the deposits and by the type of cryogenesis. The fact that for at least several hundreds of thousands years methane has not diffused from the methane-rich layers into adjacent layers implies that there is negligible diffusion of methane in the permafrost under both present and past conditions. This reservoir of bound methane could be easily released during thermoabrasion of marine and riverbanks and summer thawing of landscapes and outcrops. The yield of ancient methane from thawing of frozen late-Pliocene sediments wasestimated to be as high as 40 mg methane/m2 day; comparable with those from modern Arctic tundra landscapes.
Geocryologists at the Department of Geocryology, Geological Faculty, Moscow State University, under the leadership of Prof. E.D. Ershov continue to develop the concept of cyclicity of the cryolithozone during the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic on the basis of models of permafrost evolution. On the basis of physicochemical theory, Dr. V.G. Cheverev proposed recommendations for stabilisation and consolidation of cryogenic grouting.
Evidence was provided for the significance of intrasecular variations of temperature and atmospheric precipitation (mostly during the warm season) in the activation of cryogenic relief-forming processes in the zone of continuous permafrost. The activation of these processes is characterised by a definite cyclicity as shown by K.S.Voskresensky in his Doctoral Dissertation on Modern Relief-forming Processes on Plains of the Russian North, Faculty of Geography, MSU.
S.V. Gubin, Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science, in his Doctoral Dissertation, Late Pleistocene Soil forming on the Icyloess Sediments of the Eurasian North-East, showed that these sediments contain buried soils formed in the relatively warm period 28,000-50,000 years ago. Among them the most-developed soil profiles were forest type soils formed 40,000-50,000 thousand years ago.
Field studies and new scientific generalisations by N.N. Romanovskii, MSU, and H. Hubberten (Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany) show the role of palaeoreconstructions in the climate-sea-land system. The studies, conducted by investigators from the Moscow State University and the Institute of Earth Cryosphere, Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Division, are important for understanding the basic reasons for the activation of destructive cryogenic processes in the economically developing regions. E.S. Melnikov and his colleagues from Institute of Earth Cryosphere, based on results of field work in different regions of Russia, confirmed the special role of geocryological mapping as a basis of permafrost monitoring. M.O. Leibman, based on long-term field studies on Yamal Peninsula, demonstrated the relationship of landslide development to summer temperature and precipitation of the current and preceding year.
Researchers from the Geocryological Department, Industrial and Research Institute for Engineering of Construction (Russian Federation State Committee for Construction) carried out comprehensive studies along the Pechora Sea coast (Varandey Peninsula, European North of Russia). The thickness of the subzero temperature zone is about 150 m, with the upper 30-50 m represented by frozen soils containing methane, and below supercooled saline sediments. The temperature of these sediments reaches down to -4.0ºC, but their physical and physico-mechanical properties are similar to unfrozen sediments.
Results of the most recent studies are found in the following monographs (in Russian): L.S.Garagulya & E.D.Ershov, eds. (1999). Geokriologicheskie opasnosti (Geocryological Hazards). A.D.Frolov (1998). Elektricheskie i upruguie svoistva merzlykh porod i l’dov (Electric and Elastic Properties of Frozen Deposits and Ices). L.N.Khrustalev, ed. (1999). Inzhenernaya geokriologia (Engineering Geocryology). N.G.Moskalenko (1999). Anthropogenic Dynamics of Vegetation on the Lowlands of the Russian Criolitozone.
Director R.M.Kamensky, Permafrost Institute Yakutsk, reported that the basic topic of research at the Institute concerns the present state of permafrost and prediction of its future development. Investigations within this broad topic are conducted in five areas:
1. Spatial and temporal patterns of the distribution and evolution of permafrost, ice, frost-related features and processes;
2. Groundwater formation and regime;
3. Physical and chemical fields in permafrost, modelling and prediction;
4. Permafrost soil as a bearing and enclosing medium for engineering structures;
5. Ecological consequences of anthropogenic impact on permafrost.
The Institute carried out and continues cooperative studies with scientists from Japan, USA, Germany, and France within the framework of GAME, GAMEGEWEX, GCOS/GTN-P international projects and bilateral agreements with the University of Hokkaido (Japan), National Institute of Polar Research (Japan), National Institute for Environmental Studies (Japan), Institute of Low Temperature Science (Japan), University of Alaska (USA), and Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. Joint Russian-Japanese programmes include the study of the natural and post-disturbance (fire) evolution of permafrost landscapes in Central Yakutia, as well as monitoring of greenhouse gases in near-surface air, acid rain and snowcover contamination.
The joint Russian-German expedition (Laptev Sea – 2000 Project) in the Lena Delta, the Laptev Sea coast and shelf studied palaeoenvironmental conditions for ice-complex development and erosion of ice-rich coasts. In cooperation with the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska, a comparative study of geocryological conditions was undertaken along longitudinal transects (north-south) in East Siberia and Alaska. Air temperature variations in the last 100 years at Yakutsk and Fairbanks were analysed. Members of the Kazakhstan Laboratory joined the Kazakhstan-French-Russian expedition to study freezing conditions in ancient burial mounds at the archaeological sites in the Altai and Dzhungaria. The Institute published the following monographs: ‘Materials for Study of Unmelting Soil Frost in Siberia’, written by the Russian Academician of the 19th century K.E. Baer. It is the collection of all data and information on permafrost available by 1840. It was written in 1842 and the manuscript was kept in the archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Zhang R.V. (2000) ‘Design, Construction and Opera- tion of Small Hydraulic Structures in Permafrost Areas (Exemplified by Yakutia)’, Permafrost Institute Press, Yakutsk, 158 pp. Gorokhov A.N., Savvinov D.D., Fedorov A.N. (2000) ‘Landscape Ecology of the Amga Watershed’, Permafrost Institute Press, Yakutsk, 107 pp. Karpov E.G., Baranovsky E.L. (1999) ‘Permafrost Conditions in the Igarka Area, Northern Yenisey’, Permafrost Institute Press, Yakutsk, 181 pp.