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Just for the sake of science: Tunguska anomalies have been again tackled by scientists

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Just for the sake of science: Tunguska anomalies have been again tackled by scientists


Sergey Vinogradov

In recent years mysteries of Tunguska meteorite have been again attracting scientists from various countries of the world to Siberia. This summer the latest International expedition has come to completion in the Tunguska Nature Reserve. Professionals from Russia, the USA, Italy and the Czech Republic took part in it. One hundred and eleven years after the meteorite’s fall into the Siberian taiga, scientists still endeavour to figure out its impact onto the ecosystem.

Arthur Meidus, deputy director of the reserve, who had led the expedition, told the Russkiy Mir in his interview that scientists were pursuing several goals, including searching for traces of the meteorite, myths debunking, and researches on climate changes (incl. global warming), which, according to the scientist, has lately united Russian and European scientists.

Goals and myths

- Such expeditions dedicated to various scientific areas have been conducted in the Reserve since 2014. They are aimed to analyze the sustainability of the existing ecosystems biodiversity, that is, to which extend the nature is capable of replenishing.

The Tunguska Nature Reserve is unique because it is located in a remote place, and anthropogenic impact there is rather weak. In 1908, its territory suffered a cosmic catastrophe, which destroyed the whole creation on a fairly large area. Scientific observations have allowed to establish that all biological systems restore. Fauna and vegetation communities replace each other with certain biological patterns that lie at the core of the researches of scientists from different countries.

During the last expedition we worked in the territory that was impacted by the Tunguska catastrophe. Some of its results were already reported at the international conference in Japan by Günther Kletecka, one of the participants from the Czech University of Life Sciences.

Arthur Meidus

- What exactly did the expedition members do?

- In particular, we carried out analysis of aquatic ecosystems and tested wood tissue. An attempt was made to find trees that survived the 1908 catastrophe. At that time they were small, and now they have grown. An examination of a tree structure will provide insight into how the plant survived and developed. This, in its turn, will allow to refute some of many myths that were born in connection with the Tunguska catastrophe.

- What do you mean by myths?

- For instance, there are legends about high radiation background there, or about abnormal development of plant communities. We are able to split statements into scientific and mythical ones in an experimental way only. So we took samples of silt deposits and trees of different species and age groups - those that survived the catastrophe, and those that grew later.

In search of “ognyo”

- One of the key activities of the expedition was dedicated to studies of the geomagnetic anomaly. Many people, including local residents and those who worked there, reported about existence of such phenomenon on the territory of the Reserve. Those people, including myself, witnessed that the compass readings are completely different in some areas of the Reserve.

There are various assumptions about causes of this phenomenon. Perhaps this is due to the fact that in this area iron ores are spaced near the surface. Even the Evenkis marked certain areas on their maps; they called such areas ognyo". For a long time I used to think that ognyo were the places where the Evenks set up their camps: ognyo means fire, so - hearth... However it turned out that this was absolutely not the case. "Ognyo" was the place attracting fire, lightning, and so on. By the way, even today we record that fires occur in such places much more often than in others. This kind of places are not uncommon on our planet. But in the Tunguska Reserve rocks were magnetized many times stronger through the huge amount of energy collapsed as a result of the cosmic catastrophe. Within the framework of the project that we have prepared, special equipment is used to measure magnetic field in various areas of the reserve.

- What outcome do you expect?

- For many years there has been interest in finding the very Tunguska meteorite. Human nature is such that people believe only what can be seen and touched. But a cosmic catastrophe does not fit into any framework; we just comprehend its scale now. We did not find a meteorite, but we keep finding its traces. For example, we can talk about concentration of rare earth metals in bed sediments and local geomagnetic anomaly. We just have to compare it with previous periods. I am a scientist, so it is important for me to understand whether there is a connection between climate changes, intensification of dry thunderstorms and geomagnetic anomalies.

- You have a degree in ornithology. Are there any behavioral peculiarities of birds living on the territory of the Reserve?

- Unfortunately, I have not been able to conduct large-scale studies so far, since all scientific fields have to be dealt with at the same time. There is a description of species composition and flyby intensity of birds in the spring and autumn periods. Are there any differences in the species composition in the territory affected by the Tunguska catastrophe and in the neighbouring areas? No, there are not. Speaking in faunistic terms, everything is fine there. Over a hundred plus years, the pine forest has risen, and the fauna has been fully and completely restored. The myth that huge hares or other animals live in the area of the Tunguska catastrophe does not have any scientific evidence. In August, I set off for the next, third expedition. I will observe autumn flybys of birds and take samples of silt sediments from the Suzdalevo Lake to uncover history its origin and study intensity of fires in that area, since soot was washed into the lake.

The Tunguska International

- What does the Tunguska Nature Reserve attract foreign scientists with?

- Interest of some foreign institutes was sparked in the course of our research on climate change on planet Earth in general and specifically in this region. We took samples from lakes located in the Reserve.

Sedimentary rocks in these lakes do not interfuse and allow us to study climatic features of different periods. These works were made possible by Russian scientists from various departments of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who agreed to conduct research on the territory of the Reserve. The whole work was grounded on personal, friendly relationships, and then all together we were looking for funding and support in the funds so we could verify our ideas.

The University of Life Sciences from Prague and the Italian Institute of Marine Geology, whose specialists have been studying aquatic ecosystems for many years, have joined us. Scientists from mentioned above and other foreign institutions regularly come to Russia to participate in expeditions in our Reserve. Journalists come as well. For example, reports about our research are published in the Chinese media thanks to Weijian Kong, a reporter who became interested in our work.

- What place does the Tunguska topic hold in modern world science?

- Scientists from different countries of the world show interest in the Tunguska topic, as you put it. Today, leading universities in Europe and Russia combine issues related to global climate changes on Earth. I can talk about it with absolute confidence, because I am one of the experts of the laboratory of the University of Helsinki.

As part of this work, many scientists from different countries collect information on environmental changes within their territory. Gradually, the territory of northern Eurasia have been covered. How can we understand that global warming or global cooling has occurred? The study of natural factors, such as periods of flowering and fruiting of plants, migration paths of animals and other indicators, give much more accurate results. The study of individual territories in this case is inexpedient; joint work covering large areas has much more prospects.

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