Media Review

23 april, 2012 14:44

Rossiiskaya Gazeta: "Water with ice"

Vladimir Putin learns about the planet’s future from polar explorers.

Vladimir Putin learns about the planet’s future from polar explorers.

The Ice Age will come by all means but no sooner than in 10,000 years. This is what researchers from the Russian Antarctic expedition told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Polar explorers were working for more than 20 years to drill through the glacier and penetrate sub-glacial Lake Vostok. They made it recently. Putin even received a flask with water from the ancient glacier. On Friday, polar explorers visited the prime minister to tell him about their discovery in more detail and complain about shortages in expeditions.

“You have scored a major success,” Putin instantly praised the explorers, making it clear that they will receive awards. The researchers realised the importance of their discovery but did not consider it a surprise. Nikolai Vasilyev (head of the Well Drilling Department at the St Petersburg State Mining Institute): “We were always ahead of the rest of the world in terms of the depths we were reaching.”

Although Putin suggested speaking about problems from the very start, Valery Lukin, head of the 56th Russian Antarctic Expedition, decided to start with a pleasant event. He recalled how Russian researchers were the first in the world to drill through the ice and reach a lake that is almost as big as Lake Ladoga.

Samples of water will arrive in St Petersburg in the latter half of May. In fact, Yury Trutnev, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, brought a flask with water for the prime minister in February. But nobody tasted the water then. This time Putin asked whether the water tastes good and received the same answer from Vasilyev: “We have not tasted it yet.” Alexei Yekaikin, member of the expedition, explained: “We have extracted this water through liquid, which is located inside the drill. Naturally, all that water contains kerosene.” Vasilyev added that it must taste like melted snow: “This is absolutely tasteless distilled water.”

Putin still didn’t want to believe this: “But this absolutely different kind of water – it was cut off from the surface for millions of years.” But Vasilyev insisted: “We didn’t taste it, no.” “How come we didn’t taste it?” Yekaikin exclaimed, losing his temper: “It’s just like kerosene, Mr Putin.” Putin joked: “Just look how many cameras are here. What you are saying may scare everyone. Everyone will think you have polluted the lake.” Vasilyev suddenly became serious: “No, no. Nothing could have entered the well because of a difference in pressure. Water is clean.”

Having become convinced that Putin believed him, the researcher started talking about the future of science.

“Our plans are quite ambitious and even Napoleonic but they depend on the World Oceans federal targeted programme that ends next year. It would be good to extend it or adopt a new one. In this case in addition to research we’d be able to deal with investment projects, in part, upgrade facilities in the Antarctic, which are more than a decade old,” Yekaikin said.

It would be great to renew the transport fleet, the polar explorers said. Lukin took the floor at this point. He complained about lack of airplanes with a ski/wheel landing gear. They have to rent them and there is no progress in the Transportation Ministry on this issue. Putin promised to think about this issue. “We’ll resolve it,” he promised in several seconds. He also asked Trutnev to remember the targeted programme – the government will discuss budget projections in the near future.

From the current research and future investment, the meeting  participants went over to global issues, such as climate change. At the Vostok station researchers received information on the weather over the past 420,000 years. Vladimir Lipenkov (laboratory head, Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring) added that for the first time they obtained experimental evidence proving that greenhouse gases influence the Earth’s climate. The prime minister showed lively interest in this subject: “So, you believe that the effect of greenhouse gases is quite substantial?”

“No one denies this,” Lipenkov sounded surprised. Putin explained that some specialists do not blame climate change on human activity.

It transpired that the global warming-and-cooling cycle lasts for about 100,000 years. “Are we now headed towards global warming or cooling?” Putin asked. There was no simple answer to this question. Lipenkov said competently that we live in an inter-glacial period that is rather long. “What kind of period?” Putin asked again. “An inter-glacial period when natural greenhouse gas concentrations are sufficiently high,” Lipenkov said with confidence.

“Where are we now? Are we heading towards global warming or global cooling, regardless of the anthropogenic factor?” the prime minister insisted.

But Lipenkov insisted on his viewpoint and started talking about the inter-glacial period. He said we have already lived through the first 10,000-12,000 years and have about the same period ahead without sharp temperature ups and downs. Putin reminded Lipenkov that his question remained unanswered: “Can you tell me where we are headed today – cooling or warming?” “We are moving steadily,” Lipenkov said, again avoiding a straight answer.

“Steadily, but where do we end up? Will we experience global cooling or warming?” the prime minister would not give up.

Finally, Lipenkov said what he thought, no matter how scary it sounded: “The climate will inevitably cool off. A new Ice Age will begin 10,000-12,000 years from now. But I can’t say for sure.”

Lipenkov went on to talk for a long time and Putin admitted he could listen to the researcher forever. Lipenkov turned out to be well-versed in politics and they discussed even the Kyoto Protocol. Its opponents actively took advantage of Vostok data in order to make their point. “They overlooked unique factors of our period such as global warming. They said this had already happened in the history of the Earth,” Lipenkov said.

Putin knew these details. He told researchers that their work is crucial for decision-making at national and international level.

Friday was a busy day for the prime minister. Apart from meeting the polar expedition, he conducted a conference on floods and forest fires, discussed with VTB Bank CEO Andrei Kostin the buyback of shares from minority shareholders, and met with the chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission Viktor Khristenko.

Kostin told Putin that he received about 75,000 applications for a total sum of 11.5 billion roubles. The average application is for about 150,000 roubles. “We will transfer all funds to the accounts of shareholders by May 1,” he promised.

“I think that the bank will become even more attractive, keeping in mind that you are meeting people halfway, and that you are not abandoning your minority shareholders in a difficult situation. On the contrary, you are extending them a helping hand, and you are ready to buy their shares back. I think that this serves as an advertisement for VTB to some extent, and will help attract new investors,” Putin said.

The prime minister discussed with Khristenko further integration on the CIS space. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have already expressed their desire to be part of it. Kiev is also interested – Khristenko visited it recently and discussed terms of cooperation.

  Kira Latukhina