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'If you emptied Lake Baikal, it would take every river in the world flowing into it a year to fill.'
Mike Carter, The Observer, 2009

Special status for swamp that saves the world

By The Siberian Times reporter
01 February 2016

Part of Vasyugan Mire - the largest bog in the world - is to become a natural reserve this year, say reports.

'Bogs of Western Siberia are the hugest carbon absorbents in the planet'. Picture: TV2 Tomsk

Its area in Western Siberia is larger than Switzerland, or put another way is roughly the size of Belgium and Israel combined.

It has been called 'the last stop on the way to global warming', and a key safeguard in buttressing a growing crisis that could see water shortages, and refugees crossing borders in desperate search of drinking water.

The mire occupies a large area of the Ob and Irtysh watershed within four regions namely Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Tyumen and Omsk.

The move to create a natural reserve has been hailed by eminent academics, including Nobel prizewinner Terry V. Callaghan, who said: 'I warmly welcome the important news that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has made a decision to fund a protected area on the Vasyugan Bog, the world's largest bog of 53,000 square kilometres. The (Tomsk) Regional Administration and Tomsk State University (TSU) will together manage the protected area of 8,637 sq km for conservation and research. 

'The decision comes after a meeting held at TSU where representatives of the Ministry, Regional Administration, and academic institutions met to discuss the unique characteristics of the Vasyugan Bog and the great need to understand its biodiversity and ecological processes in order to protect it. 

'Tomsk State Universtity should be congratulated for being pro-active on this issue and for hosting this meeting'. 

Special status for swamp that saves the world
Vasyugan Mire, Western Siberia. Picture: TV2 Tomsk


'I was honoured to be invited to the meeting where I could offer a wider view of the importance of northern landscapes in moderating global climate during current warming. The other presentations focused specifically on the Vasyugan Bog and I learned much about its important wildlife, flora, hydrology and carbon stores. 

'The carbon stored in the peat can be used as a non-renewable resource as fuel and compost and the ground can be drained for forestry and agriculture. 

'Iit can also be used as a resource for continuing to capture atmospheric carbon to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere because of the great extent of the Bog. The peat is also an archive of past environments, capturing the histories of past biodiversity, hydrology, climate and chemical deposition. 

'Balancing such conflicting uses of an area is very difficult, but now that a protected area has been created, conservationists and academics can continue to explore processes of global significance and biodiversity of great importance.'

Special status for swamp that saves the world


Special status for swamp that saves the world
Part of Vasyugan Mire, pictured, is to become a natural reserve this year. Pictures: TV2 Tomsk


He said the university's centre of excellence 'BioClimLand' and new Siberian synthesis centre 'The Trans-Siberian Scientific Way' now have a new resource 'to research and co-manage to benefit science and the well-being of a unique environment and biodiversity'. 

'As well as creating a scientific legacy, the protected area of the Vasyugan Bog will allow future generations to experience a glimpse of natural environments as they were before climate warming, environmental change and intensive land management.'

Professor Sergey Kirpotin, director of the BioClimLand Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Research, Tomsk, said: 'Western Siberia is an absolutely unique bog region of the planet - there is nothing similar to it anywhere else in the world. The Big Vasyugan bog is the largest bog on the planet, it covers 7.5 million hectares. 

'In terms of size and importance, it is compatible to the Lake Baikal, the deepest lake containing roughly 20% of the planet's fresh water.

'All educated people across the globe know about the Lake Baikal - but not everyone knows about the Vasyugan bog'.

Special status for swamp that saves the world


Special status for swamp that saves the world 
Sunset over Vasyugan Mire, Western Siberia. Pictures: TV2 Tomsk


'Bogs are crucially important not only for Siberia but for the globe - they are colossal fresh water reservoirs storing water and feeding rivers such as the Ob. 

'Nowadays, in times of climate instability, humanity is facing a problem of scarce natural resources. Water is a source essential for living and we're running out of it quickly. Not oil, gas or other commodities - but water. That's why we are now on the threshold of a serious social crisis that not so many think or speak of. 

'We are aware of Europe struggling with refugees from zones of political tensions.  But it would seem a tiny creek compared to possible influx of climatic refugees, people who will be suffering from lack of fresh water catastrophically. 

'We need to prepare for it. In this sense Siberia is one of the most favourable and water-rich territories. 

'The peats of Western Siberia, and our research confirms that, have significant impact on the planet's climate. Over thousands of years bogs have been storing turf, and turf equals carbon. 

'It turns out that the bogs of Western Siberia are the hugest carbon absorbents in the planet. By storing carbon they cool our planet. 

'There is a saying that the forests are lungs of our planet, so bogs are the coolants of our atmosphere. They play a positive role in terms of regulating global climate.'

Professor Callaghan is an Honorary Doctor of the National Research Tomsk State University; Distinguished Research Professor and Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Professor of Arctic Ecology, University of Sheffield, UK; Professor of Botany, Tomsk State University; Coordinator of the INTERACT Network of Arctic Terrestrial Research Stations; Honorary Doctor of the Universities of Lund (Sweden) and  Oulu (Finland); recipient of the Polar Medal (UK), the Vega Medal (Sweden) and joint recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Comments (1)

"All educated people across the globe know about the Lake Baikal - but not everyone knows about the Vasyugan bog." I have copied this comment from the article here because I am one of those educated people who knows about Lake Baikal and now I have learned about the very important Vasyugan bog as well....:-). Thank you for understanding and acting on the responsibility we all have to take care of and protect our earth, all species and humanity.
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
04/02/2016 06:12
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