The interview is conducted by Oleg Volkov, deputy head of the Great Start project. 

V.: Today the guest of the Korolev’s Planet web portal is the head of the Earth Remote Sensing Lab at the Geography Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Candidate of Geographical Science Lev Vasilievich Desinov.

Good day, Mr. Desinov!

D.: Good day, Mr. Volkov!

V.: 10 years ago in the mountains of Caucasus, Kolka glacier suddenly slid into the valley destroying many human lives, including the lives of the film crew of Sergei Bodrov Jr.. A great help in figuring out the causes of the tragedy were pictures taken from space by cosmonaut Valery Korzun while he conducted experiment Uragan. The objective of the experiment was to develop ground-and-space-based system for monitoring and predicting natural and man-made disasters.


V.:Please tell us in more detail about that event, how the analysis was conducted, what conclusions were drawn. It has been 10 years since then, but the cause of that disaster has not yet been fully understood. 

D.: It has, indeed, been 10 years since then. The event took place on September 20, 2002 at 8:15 PM, local time at Vladikavkaz. The event consisted in the 200 billion ton glacier being ejected from where it had been reposing at the velocity of more than 100 km per hour. That was a phenomenal event – never before anywhere in the world such masses, even masses 10 times smaller, had been ejected at such velocities from where they had been resting in the mountains. Therefore, understanding how it happened and why became one of the most important scientific problems. We started working on it from the very first day after the disaster. 

It should be noted here that our institute had been conducting research on Kolka glacier for 8 years, because before that, back in 1969, Kolka glacier had experienced a pulsation, nothing catastrophic, just a pulsation, a shift. We gave a lot of attention to that. And it should be mentioned that a hundred years before the event of 2002, namely, in July 1902, Kolka went through the same thing as in 2002. Back then, all those people, who were at the time called not scientists but rather “natural philosophers" and who arrived to Kolka glacier and worked there for 2 or 3 years, arrived at the same conclusion. The Kolka glacier disaster occurred because huge masses of overhanging glaciers fell from up above, from Kazbek plateau, and the glacier lies a kilometer below the wall of Kazbek plateau. They hit Kolka glacier and dislodged it. But our team of scientists arrived to the conclusion that that was impossible: If something could ever happen at Kolka glacier, it would happen as a result of interplay of multiple natural factors, which would converge on one point in time and in space. We provided such an assessment in support of future research. 

When the event did happen, dozens of specialists from different disciplines came there. They confirmed what was said a hundred years ago. Unanimously, in one voice, everybody - both our scientists and those from Switzerland, Canada and Germany. Every one of them. But we, being the specialists, knew that that was impossible. Whatever you throw at the glacier, nothing can happen to it. It deflects any strikes and any masses that come crashing against the glacier. Everything bounces off like a ping-pong ball from the wall. 

But when these masses eventually do fall onto the glacier and put some load onto it, that’s when you can expect trouble. It was in this context that we embarked upon the research. What was, of course, important here was some documental base. We didn’t try to invent any versions of why this happened. While all of our potential opponents were working on their versions. Out task was to obtain materials, incontrovertible materials which would allow to find the answer to the question of how this happened. 

The very first document, and the most important document, was a picture taken from space on August 13, 5 weeks before the disaster, by Valery Korzun. That picture shows Kolka glacier. But the matter is we didn't know about the impending disaster. And that picture was not called for. At the time, there were no means of downlinking the data from the station in real time. We got the picture later on. We only got hold of this picture after the event. And one can see from that picture that 5 weeks before the disaster Kolka glacier went into a state of dynamic nonequilibrium. Those masses of the rocks that supposedly fell on the evening of September 20, had probably all been lying on the Kolka glacier, loading it and making it lose its equilibrium. And that was what eventually transpired. 

What can be seen in that picture? It can be clearly seen from that picture that Kolka glacier has two zones: An activization zone – in that place the glacier has a convex profile, and an ablation zone, a discharge zone, that is where the glacier has concave cross-section. The difference between these zones, the transition zones, can be seen very clearly. One can see pressure waves of ice masses coming from above. It was a clear cut case. That is, we definitely confirmed that Kolka glacier was not dislodged in one stroke, but rather, it transitioned gradually from dynamic non-equilibrium to such a discharge. That was the first very important picture. Afterwards, when the disaster had already happened, and pictures from space were received from ISS in October, we saw what actually happened to the glacier. This imaging was conducted concurrently with research on the ground – imaging from helicopters. The imaging of approximately the same point using the same vehicle made it possible to make a rough assessment of the events. 

One more additional factor in the search for the documents was that we, as former professional wanderers, had walked a lot in the mountains, and had some contacts within the sporting community. We could quickly locate the people who had happened to visit Kolka glacier right before the disaster. It was a group of tourists from Forpost team of Krasnodar, who arrived at the glacier on August 28. They were trekking towards Kazbek. Having heard the rumble, the thunder, which was heard somewhere around the bend in the area of Kolka, they interrupted their trek towards Kazbek. They went to Kolka, worked there for a week, and, what is most important, they obtained immaculate photographic record of the slopes. We compared these pictures with pictures from space. We presented these pictures to the scientific community, and it turned out that the slope, from which the glaciers had supposedly fallen, 18 days before the disaster looked exactly the same as it did after it. That was an impeccable document proving that nothing ever fell onto Kolka glacier in a single stroke. This eliminated at least 90 percent of the opponents. What remains is a small number of researchers with whom we continue our discussions to this day. 

I would like to emphasize that it was both photos taken on the ground and photos taken from space that together made it possible to come up with the opinion that the event, which the entire scientific community believed had happened, never happened. That was the most important factor. 

That was followed up with detailed research on the ground. This research continued for several years. This already involved photography from space, including photography from ISS, which confirmed, generally speaking, that Kolka glacier at first was losing its equilibrium in a manner consistent with a pulsing glacier. Inflow continuously exceeding outflow through the forces of gravity had to upset the equilibrium of the Kolka glacier. That was exactly what was happening to it, as evidenced by the picture taken by Valery Korzun. And after that the process was overtaken by what we call the endogenous factor, tat is, internal processes. Kolka glacier lay in a fault of the earth crust. At that time there were several powerful earthquakes with epicenter not far from Kolka glacier. And, the most important part is that it lay on the slope of Kazbek volcano. A mantle hot spot became active inside the Kazbek volcano. That was eventually discovered by geophysicists. A huge blob of magma heated up to 1000 degrees rose directly under the Kolka glacier. It came as close to Kolka as 4 km, while the depth of that layer was 7 km. Because there was this huge underlying mass of heated matter - magma, what happened was a fluid ejection through the rocks. Those fluids, the flows which reached the slope, heated up the slope of Kazbek which had always been cold. That’s why the rocks, and the glaciers they had supported, fell on Kolka, let me stress it, much earlier then at that one supposed moment. And those fluid flows which went under Kolka glacier, saturated the fluid circuit of the glacier and water under the glacier. 

The fact is that there is a huge amount of water inside a glacier. They have their own rivers and streams flowing in there, there are lakes there, etc. All of these were being saturated with gases, fluid flows from that very same magma. The small lake that got formed under the glacier was being saturated. It is quite obvious that if fluid flows saturate a glacier - and this is acid stuff, the amount of water in the glacier goes up. The glacier is loaded from above with an additional mass. This also increases the amount of water. And just because of the fact that it grows warmer, the amount of water once again goes up. The amount of water in the glacier was getting higher and higher. What eventually happened was degassing process, or what we call the champagne effect. During degassing, gases explode from a liquid under high pressure – that’s the champagne effect. That means that the process started on the evening of the 20th and even somewhat earlier. Multiple volumes of water which saturated the glacier, during degassing broke it up into millions of pieces. And the water that had been under the glacier, during degassing did work to instantaneously dislodge those 200 million tons. That’s the kind of phenomenal case that it was. 

The studies on the ground were a follow-up. But whenever we talk about studies from space, we always say: Two or three tiers of studies are always needed. Let’s say, from space and on the ground, and it would be good if we could add to these some studies from air. This is a classic example of a case where combining space and ground methods produced such an outstanding scientific result. I would like emphasize once again that the basis for all of this is space imagery. 


V.: Mr. Desinov, 10 years ago Kolka glacier slid, destroying many human lives, this year the country was shaken by the tragedy in Krymsk, which also claimed many victims, on a smaller scale a tragedy occurred in Novomikhailovka. In view of your experience in conducting the Uragan experiment, could you tell me whether monitoring from space can be helpful in preventing similar disasters in the future? 

D.: Of course, it can. It has already helped, it helps and it can help in the future. Let’s talk about this a little. Events in Krymsk provide a perfect example of the efficiency of the ISS mission. The fact is, as soon as the disaster occurred, all the space assets in the world became involved in the imaging. Pictures were taken from US, Japanese and French satellites. These pictures eventually found their way into our country. But the active involvement of a particular crew, and, first and foremost, of Gennady Padalka, who is, by the way, a native of the Kranodar region, resulted in the fact that we were the first to take pictures, on July 9. We received the picture two days after the disaster. 

The most important thing is that there was a radio link available onboard, which made it possible to immediately put the picture on the desk of scientists, on our desk. Because, usually, it is a long process between the moments in time when the picture is taken and when the data are handed over to the scientists. But in this case the system worked very efficiently. Immediate response from the crew, immediate transmission, almost immediate downlink to Earth, and prompt use of the data by professionals to evaluate the event. We have actually beaten everybody else by 2 to 3 days, that was the first thing. Secondly, the team of scientists who analyzed all these data turned out to consist of highly skilled professionals. Usually, when something happens, everybody wants to give his opinion, and both true specialists and “sort of” specialists come. In this case, the research was conducted by a team of scientist, who were professionals in the field of dangers in the mountains, various phenomena, which could prove to be disastrous in the mountains. And that was the team which works together with RSC Energia to obtain the data. Thus, we were the first to establish that the tragedy in Krymsk occurred as a result of a coincidence of several factors: both natural and man-made ones. 

There was, indeed, a huge amount of precipitation there. While it was previously believed that no more than 80 mm of precipitation per day could ever fall on the Caucasus Mountains in the area of Krymsk, and this is a fairly large figure, in this case it was 240 mm and even, according to my estimates, more than that. That is, imagine 240-300 liters of water falling on the surface area of 1 square meter. And with the hydrologic basin having a surface area of 320 square km, the water flow was, of course, enormous. Let me put it this way: flow rate at the entry to Krymsk was about 1500 cubic meters per second. This is a much higher flow rate than that of Volga river near the town of Yaroslavl, only flow velocities are different: in Yaroslavl the velocity is low, here the velocity is huge. That’s the amount of water that was advancing towards Krymsk. 

We needed to try to establish: how, what and why. And only after that the studies on the ground were conducted, only after that the opinions became more or less consolidated. But at first everything had to be evaluated and quickly reported to the authorities. Here, imaging from space turned out to be very effective. The pictures taken by Gennady Padalka very clearly showed not only the flooded area in the town, one could see the processes which would result in the disaster. For example, we saw where in the mountains some temporary blockages occurred, and that afterwards the water was discharged with a vengeance. It is where, at the bend of the river, or, let us say, at a confluence of two rivers the water, sort of, suspends its movements, accumulates its strength, and then, with a greater strength it proceeds downwards. All these places remained recorded in the pictures. We quickly calculated and came up with an estimation of how this water disaster evolved. 

One more important aspect was that the picture showed a great number of landslides that had occurred in the mountains. It wasn’t just a rush of water towards the town, but rather a rush of water carrying solid matter, we call it solid discharge. An enormous amount of loose rocks was washed away and found itself in the water. Advancing towards the town was water saturated with a huge amount of solid material: rocks, clay, etc. Locations from where all this came also became visible in the picture. We could see how these streams halted in front of engineering structures, bridges, primarily in front of the town, how they got accumulated and consolidated, how the broke through the obstacles and continued advancing towards the town. 

I’ll tell you right away, that the first to be affected were two dams and a railway bridge, which was swamped with trash. By trash we mean trees, cars, fridges – everything that we discard in the flood plain, that’s the way we live, unfortunately. We could see how all of these were purged with powerful water flows afterwards. We could see how subsequent waves swept into the town. We could see that there was a highway bridge in front of the town. That the same kind of the process happened there. All of this was also overrun by water. We could see how this water rushed into the town as a sort of tsunami. I emphasize that all these traces remained recorded in the pictures. When in 2 or 3 weeks time all this was confirmed through thorough scientific studies, including ours, we were the first to be able to provide an accurate assessment of the event to, above all, the administrations of the province and of the whole country. This enabled them to come up with precise recovery measures and develop way of helping the people. 

It is clear that there were many other people, events and organizations involved, but that was the key moment. This was also appreciated, I can tell this with certainty, by our country’s president V.V. Putin. This example tells us what approximate knowledge we can gain: if we continue taking pictures of the mountain using the same hardware we have now, we will be able to know in advance where in a neighboring valley, for example, a river may have some locations, which could cause consolidation of water flows, that’s the first thing. 

We could know those locations, where landslides could occur in the first place. We can see how this or that engineering structure may or may not affect flow movements, etc., we can see it in advance. Such work is scheduled for 2013, us together with you. By the way, we are planning and conducting imaging of that territory right now. Tree cover is denuded now, and there are some pretty big trees there, with trunks a meter thick, like beech or hardbeam. Now, when the foliage is shed, we would like to see these mountains denuded. Afterwards we will be working on it through the summer.  

That is, we now have the task of providing an assessment of the state of all the valleys in Krasnodar territory: 

from Krymsk to Sochi, and there are about a hundred small ravines or large valleys there. This assessment will be conducted and findings will be provided about potential dangers of this area in case it is exposed to the same amount of precipitation as the area around Krymsk was. 

Coming back to the subject of Novomikhailovka, even back then we immediately said that the same kind of processes could occur in the neighboring valleys. It was, to a significant degree, at our suggestion that the clearing work began at Novomikhailovka. When, not on July 7, but rather on August 21, the disaster struck at Novomikhailovka, owing to the fact that it was six weeks later, the hardware had been deployed in the area of Nechepsukho, and the valley had been cleared, there were no significant losses in Novomikhailovka. For the only reason that the river was cleared and prepared, the water passed through without any problems, virtually without congestion, there were only two people killed in Novomikhailovka, not four as some people believe. There were two more people killed in a nearby small valley. This is all owing to the fact that the measures had been taken. 

And in the future we are planning to cover the entire territory of the country. If station stays in orbit for a long time, and we hope that it will stay in orbit for a long time, it will provide data that will be used by the ground team. I would like to emphasize once again, as I said earlier, that space imagery alone will not be very effective. Only concurrent studies on the ground, only installing specialized sensors in the mountains will make it possible to achieve success. In one word, such sensors must be put everywhere in the mountains, and they already begin to be installed in Krymsk. We must know the level of precipitation. 

Let me tell you Mr.Volkov, that during the disaster there were no observations conducted on the spot, in the mountains, there wasn't a single precipitation gage there. Now all these things are being installed. We must have sensors which would be able to take measurements from bridges, from such raised points, of the water level in rivers. We absolutely must know how everything gets soaked with water. In Krymsk, before the water arrived, the soil first had gotten soaked with water. And this in spite of the fact that there had been very little precipitation before the disaster. Rocks gradually had gotten soaked. Had we had sensors installed, they would have shown that whirlwind itself began to throw out water. These rocks were so soaked, that in order to visualize it we must imagine mountains covered with polyethylene film. In that case the rocks would not be able to take in any more water, and the water would just roll down the slope. We need to have such sensors. And we also need to have such sensors that would be capable of detecting, at key locations, these rocks sliding down over the bedrock. At least this kind of monitoring system. 

That is, if it is established, if a system is set up to support interactions between this ground monitoring system and the space system, success will be achieved. If it is established, and we are now closely cooperating with the Governor of the Krasnodar Territory, Alexander Tkachev and his staff, then, I think, we’ll achieve success. The current task is to extend it to cover the entire territory of the country. 


V.: Mr. Desinov, we know that one of the most successful managers in our country is the current Defense Minister S.K. Shoigu, who had founded the Emergency Control Ministry (EMERCOM) of Russia. Do you cooperate with this organization? Do you have any contact? Because without this organization it is just impossible to establish a system for predicting natural and man-made disasters in Russia. 

D.: Unfortunately, this contact is very weak. We only get in touch when something happens. When the Krymsk event occurred, for several days we were closely cooperating with the EMERCOM situation center and were jointly working out a common approach to evaluation of this event. We were completely unanimous in our assessment of the event and its representation. And after that they start taking their own measures to rescue, recover, etc.. But the problem is that when you monitor Earth from ISS, there are several drawbacks, which won’t let us get into closer contact. For example, we, unfortunately, overfly the same point sometimes at night, sometimes during daytime. But EMERCOM needs a space monitoring system which would be fully mobilized around the clock. Because sometimes some things happen, and they happen at night.  

One more important point: even with a crew of three, they all work the same shift, that is, they only work eight hours a day, and sixteen hours are not covered. Even when we overfly a territory during daytime, but it's nighttime according to the crew work schedule, they sleep. We can’t do anything. 

There are some other disadvantages. At EMERCOM they keep all this in mind. They are distrustful towards us, because we do not have a reliable way of providing detailed information of a daily basis. This is clearly our drawback. And that is why we cooperate with them only from time to time. But something can be changed here. 

Well, one more aspect, which makes it possible for us to get closer, is that Earth imaging resolution used to be 10 meters, and then we raised it up to 5 meters. Currently we have technology onboard, which enables Earth observation and imaging with resolution of 2-3 meters. And that is the level of detail, the ground resolution, where EMERCOM begins to show us some respect. That is, there is a certain narrowing of differences, but this process still isn't well-organized. 


V.: Mr. Desinov, my understanding is that you are conducting Uragan experiment involving the use of hand-held cameras, still cameras and video cameras operating in the optical band. But usually there is a thick cloud cover at the location of a disaster. Are there any ideas to build the hardware which would be capable of operating under all-weather conditions, which would monitor and observe the disaster site in the presence of a thick cloud cover, among other things? 

D.: Of course, any system for monitoring Earth surface from space implies monitoring in various spectral bands, including a thermal band, let’s say, somewhere around 4.6 micron. A system which also enables seeing hot masses in the band around 12.14 microns, which makes it possible to capture true heat. Just as we speak, we are actually communication in the thermal band, and the heat also needs to be captured somehow. 

Everybody understands that this needs to be done, but the funds for this are not allocated. With great difficulty we managed to overcome this lack of understanding. Several years ago RSC Energia received some money for development of a spectral system with the help of Belarus. It’s a photospectral system. This system is being upgraded. It was all very hard to do, but the process has been set in motion. And we still have not been able to secure financial support to equip the station with infrared or microwave hardware. I’m just a scientist who analyzes all the data. I’m not in a position to change the situation. I think that until Roskosmos realizes the need, nothing will happen. 

Now is the moment when, at the direction of the government, the entire system of the Russian Space Agency is being reorganized. It’s during these days, these months that we hope something will happen. Proposals that are being reviewed are of organizational, technical and ideological nature. I am, by the way, a member of this commission. On behalf of the Academy of Sciences, I’m now participating in the work to assess what is being done in the Federal Space Agency. I know all this in depth. That’s why these aspects are the most important, that is, reorganizing the industry, the overall system of space monitoring and space exploration in our country. 

We need to proceed from our objectives, and not just from understanding who the Roskosmos property belongs to, how all of this is to be structured, in the form of corporations or holdings. We need an understanding of our objectives, and we hope that after Roskosmos reorganization we will have such an understanding. Funds will be provided: firstly, for the hardware which would allow monitoring in RF band, funds for the concurrent ground studies, and funds for introducing all these results to the national economy. Until these three things happen, nothing good will come of it. Only when the first, the second and the third factors are present, a clear breakthrough can be achieved. 


V.: Mr. Desinov, one more question. It is a known fact that the flight path of the International Space Station does not allow the full coverage of the Russian territory, but it does cover virtually all the countries which we now call the CIS, the former republics of the Soviet Union. Russia is not indifferent to the fortunes of the population of those countries, which became the home of many of our former compatriots. Do you think it would make sense for Russia to establish an international system for predicting natural and man-made disasters, which would involve these countries? What countries could join it in the first place? 

D.: Of course, the only answer a can give is "yes", and there are lots of arguments to support it. Actually, maybe the simplest of these arguments is the fact that remaining in those countries are a lot of people, with whom we used to live together in this great big country. We do care about those people, their work, their interests, their creative impulses, etc. But this is just the first argument. The second argument is that these countries have a significant remaining creative scientific potential. At the time when our vast country, Soviet Union, was still in existence, we had a sort of division of labor: They could do some individual studies for the benefit of the entire country somewhere in Tbilisi, and some other studies somewhere else, let’s say in Ukraine, in Kiev, etc. All of this is now lost and disrupted. Establishing the system, which you asked me about, would have made it possible to re-consolidate this brainpower, and even to get young scientists in these countries interested in this sort of consolidated research. 

And we’ve got to keep in mind that a huge amount of archived materials remains, a huge amount of knowledge. All of this would have once again been put to good use. And one more thing. When we are talking about some disasters, we are talking about processes that travel from one territory to another. Let’s say, the same weather processes evolve. It is clear that the ocean-atmosphere heat engine is at work. It is common to all the countries of the former Soviet Union. Geological faults also extent beyond national borders, etc. But still, the most important thing is the scientific potential. It is still about the common interests. Convergence of interests, even simple attraction to each other – it can even have a certain political importance. I believe that this is a thing that must be done. And we already have some examples, which are, by the way, quite good. 

In recent years decisions have been made to cooperate: we have an ongoing cooperation with Belarus, that very device, FSS, was developed at Minsk, and is being used onboard. Ukrainian science, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, shows a good deal of interest. Roskosmos has a program, recently adopted, of cooperation with the Ukrainian side, in particular, in the field of Earth monitoring. 

Kazakhs. Kazakhstan is the country which is, more than any other, ready to cooperate. Even in such countries as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan there are still some specialists left, who are willing to cooperate and have an experience in studying the dangers of disasters. Because foothills and mountains is where disasters are more likely to happen. And that’s why these countries are of more interest. The same applies to the Carpathian zone of folding. Czechs, Slovaks, Poles. They have accumulated a great deal of experience. 

I would even suggest that we look at it from a broader perspective – the experience exists, generally speaking, in Europe. Cooperation with Germany, with ESA – European Space Agency – clearly shows that here we have complete understanding of the problem, what we need are just some organizational decisions, financial resources. But summing up my answer to your question, of course, not only would it make sense, it is very necessary and very useful. I firmly believe that this is going to happen and, in my opinion, there is some movement in that direction. 


V.: Mr. Desinov, you told us about Kolka glacier, about Krymsk, but what other results have been achieved in the Uragan experiment during more than 10 years of research? 

D.: Yes, we do have results, and, in my opinion, quite successful. The fact is, Uragan experiment was not created from scratch. Before it, there were similar experiments onboard Mir and Salyut space stations. That is why, to a significant degree, we also refer to data obtained back then. For example, you mentioned Kolka glacier, but there are two more interesting problems associated with glaciers. The first problem, which might be the most pressing problem in today’s world, is to understand what is happening to the climate. We know that climate on Earth is changing and getting, on the whole, warmer. A glacier is the kind of amazing object, which makes it possible to evaluate this process. Let me tell you, very briefly, about how we work. 

There is a program onboard the station within the framework of the Uragan experiment.

There are 12 mountainous regions all over the world, in its northern and southern parts, in the western and eastern hemispheres. This includes the glaciers of the entire Alpine-Himalayan belt of folding: Glaciers of the Alps, Pyrenees, Caucasus, Altai, Pamir, Hindu Kush, the Himalayas. In the southern hemisphere, the glaciers of New Zealand; in the southern part of the western hemisphere, glaciers of Patagonia, individual mountainous knots in Peru. In the northern hemisphere, Coast Mountains of USA. This includes islands of the southern ocean, let’s say South Georgia, etc. Currently, glaciers in all of these territories, except the eastern part of Antarctic, are receding. 

We selected 10-12 objects in each of these twelve mountainous regions and are tracking the retreat of these glaciers, or their dynamics, to be more precise. I can tell you that we’ve already obtained some interesting preliminary results in the framework of this particular experiment based on our work dating as far back as the missions of Salyut-6 and Salyut-7. What do we see now? Using data from literature, that is, from whatever observations were conducted and described in literature, we know that the period of climate warming began since mid 19th century. It is the glaciers that show us that they began to recede somewhere around the middle of the 19th century. Before that, it was a cold period. Let’s look at the data from literature, from the period when there was no imaging from space, just data from literature. We take, let’s say, several territories, for example, Altai. We can see that the rate of warming is increasing. From zero, over a period of fifty, sixty years, that is, by the early 20th century, we reach the average rate of glacier retreat of 15 meters per year. Then, the next period of 60-65 years. We can see that the rate of warming as expressed by the retreat of the glacier remains at the same level. The Earth is getting warmer, at least in Siberia and in the Caucasus, and it goes even further than that, other glaciers show the same tendencies. The rate of warming on Earth is leveling off. It was constant for about the first sixty years of the 20th century. 

Then imaging from space began. We can see that in the 60s, 70s, 80s, there was a dip in the rate of warming, virtually reaching zero. There still was some warming but it was almost at zero. It still existed, but it was about to stop. And then, starting from the 80s, we can see the rate of warming picking up again and reaching the level of the first sixty years of the 20th century. And imaging from ISS, which began in 2001, that is, 12 years ago, shows that it was at that period in time, in 2001-2002, that the rate of warming abruptly went up. 

That’s an outline of the curve, the trend, and the processes, which we are studying now using ground data and pictures from space. Now, when we have this wonderful opportunity to study glaciers through images taken from space, the imaging from space takes up an ever growing proportion of work within this effort. It’s quick, efficient and accurate. That’s why we put more hopes on space materials, than on ground studies, because these scientific data, this scientific knowledge are obtained on a mass scale. 

One more thing, speaking of glaciers, this year there was a surge of Medvezhii glacier. This glacier is of the greatest interest. It is the most important glacier in the world in the sense that it is the one that pulses most often – once in 11-12 years. The surge happened in 2011, but as early as in 2007 we clearly saw all the indications that it would happen soon, and we were looking out for it. In 2011, Medvezhii glacier surged once again towards the valley of river Vanch in Pamir Mountains, this was not an unexpected event. Everything had been pre-assessed and warnings had been issued that such a process would happen. The fact that some of the pulsing glaciers are dangerous, and some are not, is a different matter. It was a very interesting natural phenomenon. It moved out into the valley, and sometimes it moves a little bit farther out. It then blocks another valley in the mountains, and a pressure lake is formed. Naturally, it bursts, and the water floods the valley of river Vanch in Pamir Mountains. 

There are many of such pulsing glaciers. We are watching them too. We know what is currently happening to the pulsing glaciers in Karakoram Range, we watch the Alps, although nothing is expected to happen there and for now this forecast is confirmed, but there were some interesting events there, etc. That’s as far as glaciers are concerned. 

What other results? Well, let's talk about the first thing that comes to mind. Of course, a very interesting problem that is being addressed now is the problem of Aral Sea. Because what kind of problem is this in the minds of average normal people? Yes, everybody knows that there is such thing as Aral Sea, and Aral Sea is drying out. And that that is the problem. There used to be a large Aral Sea. It is drying out. They think it affects the climate somehow. And lots of things connected to it. In fact, this problem is not where the real trouble lies.. Aral Sea is doomed because inflow of water into it from Amu Darya river has virtually stopped completely and almost stopped from Syr Darya river. Aral Sea is doomed destruction. Dozens of international foundations are trying to save the lake. Money to save the Aral Sea comes even from NATO funds, and quite a serious amount of money, by the way. But all this money is sinking into sand. Because due to political and economic disputes between the countries of Central Asia, this problem is not being solved. It’s just that the amount of water that needs to be taken from Pamir and Tien Shan in order to deliver it here is no longer available. 

But when space imaging data from ISS show us that oil and gas prospecting is going on in the south-eastern part of Aral Sea, where the delta of Amu Darya used to be, we clearly understand that Aral Sea is doomed. Because it just turns into an object. There is indeed plenty of oil and gas there, and they start mining now. But we established a long time ago, and I would like to place a special emphasis on the fact that it were the Soviet, and then the Russian space stations that were instrumental in establishing the fact that there are strong dust flows occurring in the Aral Sea about 5 or 6 times per year. 

Because there is virtually no water left in the Aral Sea, an area of 50 thousand square kilometers became uncovered. I did some drilling there. We know that the salt layer thickness there is about 18 meters. Everything that was washed off the cotton-growing fields, what was carried away to the lake is now the former bottom of the Aral Sea. It has turned into a dry land. Fifty thousand square kilometers of the newly formed dry land, which is, let’s say, 20 meters thick. During each strong dust event the wind blows off about 2-3 mm of the sand, but there are enormous supplies of sand there. And it was during the breakup of the Soviet Union that our institute, namely professor Glazovsky, completed the studies and published a most interesting book entitled ‘Aral Crisis’. He demonstrated what the real Aral problem was – an enormous amount of harmful substances carried away with the salt of these dust storms. At the time we only conducted our studies in the area of the Aral lake. But even back then we demonstrated that on the average the sickness rate of the population living in the Aral region is 10 to 12 times higher than in the rest of the Soviet Union. First of all this applied to hepatitis, cancers, gynecological diseases, infant mortality. 10 to 12 times higher! 

It was clear that this is the problem, generally speaking, of the Central Asia. But afterwards, with the help of the cosmonauts, it was found that out of these five or six storms one or two a year travel in the direction different from the one they are supposed to take – from west to east. Due to the second transfer these dust storms move towards Orenburg and Moscow. In that direction. And if we find particles of this matter in the ice of Elbrus, and our institute does some drilling there, and soon we’ll probably find them in the ice of Antarctic, this means that those most harmful flows are spreading all around the world. There must be quite a lot of them in Paris and London! What concentrations are dangerous and what aren’t? That’s the problem of Aral. 

It must be dangerous. But at what distance, and what are negative effects – that’s the problem! But the fact that Aral is going to disappear as a body of water won’t have any effect on the Earth climate against the background of this huge ocean-atmosphere heat engine, which exists all around us. That’s the true problem! But, no matter how many times we wrote about this in our reports to the Federal Space Agency, however much we raise our voice – nothing happens. For example, the Chief Sanitary Inspector Onishchenko, who is responsible for food safety and is fighting imports of Georgian wines, does not want to support us on the subject of Aral salts. So, there is such a problem, and we have demonstrated its existence, let me point it out, through joint work with ISS. What other examples? 


V.: Caspian Sea. Do you conduct monitoring? 

D.: Absolutely correct. I’ll tell you what’s happening in the Caspian Sea. Do you remember the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? That was indeed a terrible event. But the disaster was more or less localized. The same is happening in the Caspian Sea, only on a larger scale. It was happening, it still is, and, it seems, will be for a long time. The fact is that the Caspian Sea is not divided up in any way. There are no boundaries there, no economic zones. It just doesn’t have any owner. All the attempts of the five countries in Caspian region to join their efforts failed. Because economic interests of individual groups seem to have a higher priority than other kinds of interests. Anyway, for this reason there is no coordinated environmental policy in the Caspian Sea. There are now actually several regions in the Caspian Sea where an intensive extraction of mineral raw materials is going on with no regard or insufficient regard for safety rules with respect to emission sources. 

For example, we have an abysmal situation in the area of Baku, at Neftyanyye Kamni. Such oil blowouts exist in the area of Kosh-Agach, on the Caspian seashore. The same can be observed on the Turkmen portion of the coast. But since the Caspian Sea consists of what we call the northern basin and the southern basin separated by Apsheron Threshold, the northern basis has its own water cycle, as does the southern basin, and there is also a water cycle that covers the entire Caspian Sea. And the direction of this circulation, if we take the area of Baku, is from north to south, past Dagestan towards Baku. And it comes back to north along the eastern shore. So, whatever dirt finds its way into the Caspian Sea, it eventually spreads over the entire Caspian Sea. 

And nobody tries to fight this. By the way, an interesting fact. Just recently we received from RSC Energia a very interesting series of pictures taken at night. We asked Gennady Padalka to take a dozen of pictures of various interesting places on Earth. Mr. Padalka took the pictures. What we received from RSC Energia were not several dozens, but rather four and a half thousand nighttime pictures of locations around the world. Very interesting information. When we looked at the Caspian Sea at night, we arrived at an important conclusion. Although, it might have been possible to obtain this knowledge from other sources. 

We saw that the Apsheron Threshold is the most well-lit place in the Caspian Sea. The entire Apsheron Threshold is being drilled, there are several oil wells. This is demonstrated by the brightest spots in the pictures. From the nighttime pictures we can even see how the intensive exploration of the Caspian Sea progresses. I can say from my experience of talking with people who are drilling there, that it is going on at a faster pace than before. I would even venture to say, without naming my source, that one specialist employed by a foreign company drilling in Kazakhstan, when discussing with me why such things happen, said: “Well, we are drilling among the natives, using the natives’ methods.” That is, without observing any rules. Caspian Sea is a great disaster. We have accumulated hundreds of pictures of the Caspian Sea over the last 10 years, and if requested, we are ready to present these data. To show this disaster. But there is nobody to show it to! Nobody is interested. Now, that’s the true problem of the Caspian Sea.  

Talking about other interesting problems…

V.: Yes, Mr. Desinov, for example, monitoring of forests. Russia is rich in forests. Do you conduct the monitoring of forests within the framework of the Uragan experiment? 

D.: Yes, we do conduct it, but there is one ‘but’. The matter is that the orbital inclination is almost 52 degrees. And, realistically speaking, we can only see as far as 58 degrees. And our country extends way farther than this. Virtually all of our forests are beyond these limits, that is, we can see no more than 1/7, 1/8 of the forests we have in our country. That's why when we try to get in touch with those people who study all the forests in our country, it turns out that we are of no interest to them. Frankly speaking, we do not represent a space asset which could provide information about the entire country. Our information is only episodic. It is accepted, but it is far from being the key data, it is more like auxiliary data. With other means of Earth monitoring available, we are not in the lead here. And we will never be in the lead, just because the space station flight has its own drawbacks. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter… 

V.: In the area near the border with China, is there timber smuggling, illegal tree felling, etc.? Those territories, which are deeper inside our country, are better protected against depredation of forests and timber export. And what can you say about the forested areas of Russia that are bordering China? 

D.: First of all, I would like to tell you that the most injurious felling of forests, according to imaging from ISS, occurs not near China, but around Moscow, around big cities. I specially drove on many occasions on the roads around Moscow, and was happy to see how beautiful our forests are when you look at them from a window of a car. But you only need to go into the forest as deep as a hundred meters, and, more often than not, you’ll find that there is no forest left there. Imaging from ISS shows that we have already lost tremendous amounts of forests in the area around Moscow. 

As for forests in the areas near the Russian border with China, there is, of course, some intensive felling of forests going on there. It’s to the east of lake Baikal, but there is some to the west as well. Of course we can see such intensive felling in Irkutsk region, in Amur region, in Khabarovsk territory. Yes, there is such felling going on. But let me tell you once again: since there are other space assets available, our forestry agency is inclined to use other sources, and all their analyses are based on them. We submit to them what we see, they thank us, take these data into account, but we are not the monitoring system. We can see that there is some felling going on and we are willing to provide confirmation. I'd venture to say that these data do not always arouse any real interest. 

But let me re-iterate: there is a lot of felling going on and it doesn’t abate, especially around industrial centers, and, in general, around centers with large populations. The larger the population, the more felling in the surrounding areas. 

And, of course, fires. Actually, after six-month missions the crews bring back, on average, 600-700 pictures of fires of great interest. But the matter is that other means of fire detection also provide information. Therefore, in this area as well we are just a sort of an auxiliary tool. That is, from the standpoint of forests, to answer your question in general terms: we do have this information, but it is just supplemental, because there are other, more efficient space assets to monitor the forests. 


V.: So, summing up the results of the Uragan experiment, I see that not every country can have the means of observation of her own. Isn’t joining together the efforts of many countries and, for example, monitoring the water resources of the entire globe is a task that must be given to the researchers of the entire world? 

D.: I’m in complete agreement with you. But what is important is that the administration of the Federal Space Agency should be in agreement with us. The top management of the industry should be aware of the need to solve this problem. Then steps will be taken towards solving it. It is quite obvious that it must be addressed not just by being aware of it and even by outfitting our orbital assets with this or that piece of hardware, it must be understood that without financial support for the on-the-ground part of these activities nothing is going to happen. But the current policy is that there are some documents in Roskosmos, I’m not familiar with them personally, which say: here’s your hardware, here’s access to the space station, here’s information that we provide, and as for the rest – it’s up to you. Unfortunately, that’s how science is organized in our country at the moment. 

Our science doesn’t have money for this research. As long as this situation remains as it is, nothing good is going to happen. You remember the Soviet period when through the space industry, through the General Instrumentation Industry scientists received funding for their research. Back then there were some results, I would say, first results, but they were more significant, percentagewise. But now the system is disrupted. On-orbit systems are provided by Roskosmos. It would seem that the Academy of Sciences is supposed to support on-the-ground research, but it is not provided with funds for this. This is the true disaster that we have now. This could be remedied through international cooperation. But once again, in order to organize cooperation, some effort on the part of Roskosmos is required. Because we cannot do it on the part of our institutions. We must be supported and even exhorted by the Federal Space Agency to do it. That’s why we are talking about it today, especially since we know that something needs to be done in this organization, Roskosmos. Generally speaking, the true problem lies here. The authorities and organizing structures need to be aware of it and take the appropriate measures. It will have a much grater effect then. 


V.: Mr. Desinov, to conclude our discussion, I would like to remember the words of Boris Chertok, who spoke last year on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight, when a delegation from Academy of Sciences together with its president Osipov visited RSC Energia. Chertok, analyzing the sources of our great successes in the past, said that they had been a result of direct communication between the prime developer of space systems, the company headed by S.P. Korolev and the Academy of Sciences. There was a very close cooperation between Keldysh, the president of the Academy, and Korolev, the developer of manned space systems, and it resulted in achievements in manned space flight. Therefore, he once again called for a closer cooperation between the developers of space technology and the Academy of Sciences, so that together, through a joint effort they could achieve the same spectacular success in the future. 

D.: This very experienced and very wise man, Mr. Chertok, spoke about cooperation on many occasions. I was once lucky enough to hear him say the same words many years ago. We were in a delegation visiting Peenemunde. It was a missiles base, from which Germans fired shots at UK. So, at point zero, from which the first V-2 rockets were fired, Boris Chertok gathered us, and there were people from space industry and a lot of scientists there, and it was there and then that I heard those words from him. The words had special meaning, when we were there, at the point from which real combat missiles had been fired, it was the real thing. On that occasion this very wise man expressed his thoughts on the progression of science, on the direction that should be taken by the science in low Earth orbit. He said the same thing: only a close relationship between the space industry and the fundamental and applied science would make it possible to achieve results. 

The disconnect that we have now: we build hardware, and you study something out there, that’s what results in the consequences which we have now on our hands. So I think that these words by Mr. Chertok should be put up on the wall somewhere in Roskosmos, as the most important words. So that they could read them every time they come to work. 


V.: Mr. Desinov, thank you very much for this meeting, I hope we’ll continue our cooperation in the next year as well, and we wish to you all the best, and further successes in your creative work. 

D.: Thank you, I’m very glad that there is such a program as yours. I got acquainted with it through your web site. I had a look, and it seems to me that it generates intense interest. I wish success to you, to this program, I wish that you not finish it, but, rather, expand it, it’s efficient. Thank you! 

V.: Thank you very much, Mr. Desinov!

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