Land use and land cover change in Arctic Russia: Ecological and social implications of industrial development

Timo Kumpula, Anu Pajunen, Elina Kaarlejarvi, Bruce C. Forbes, Florian Stammler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


Sizable areas in northwestern arctic Russia have undergone fundamental change in recent decades as the exploration of vast hydrocarbon deposits has intensified. We undertook two case studies on the influence of oil and gas activities within neighbouring federal districts in the tundra zone. Employing a strongly interdisciplinary approach, we studied the ecological, spatial and social dimensions of the visible and perceived changes in land use and land cover. Our data are derived from field sampling, remote sensing and intensive participant observation with indigenous Nenets reindeer herders and non-indigenous workers. Important trends include the rapid expansion of infrastructure, a large influx of workers who compete for freshwater fish, and extensive transformation from shrub- to grass- and sedge-dominated tundra. The latter represents an alternative ecosystem state that is likely to persist indefinitely. On terrain disturbed by off-road vehicle traffic, reindeer pastures' vegetation regenerates with fewer species among which grasses and sedges dominate, thus reducing biodiversity. To have maximum forage value such pastures must be accessible and free of trash, petro-chemicals and feral dogs. We found that a wide range of direct and indirect impacts, both ecological and social, accumulate in space and time such that the combined influence is effectively regional rather than local, depending in part on the placement of facilities. While incoming workers commonly commit poaching, they also serve as exchange partners, making barter for goods possible in remote locations. In general, the same positive and negative impacts of the presence of industry were mentioned in each study region. Even using very high-resolution remote sensing data (Quickbird-2) it is not possible to determine fully the amount of degraded territory in modern oil and gas fields. With regard to policy, both biophysical and social impacts could be substantially reduced if information flow between herders and workers were to be optimized. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-562
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change : Human and Policy Dimensions
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Oil & gas activities
  • Remote sensing
  • Human impact
  • Salix
  • Off-road traffic
  • Reindeer
  • Nenets nomadism

Field of science

  • Environmental sciences


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