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Environmental impact of mining industry

Mining industry is one of the sectors strongly and comprehensively affecting the environment. The intensive use of land lots for mining mineral resources leads to the destruction of the surface ground layer, creation of mining openings, disturbance of the hydrological regime of rivers, soil and surface and underground water pollution, and destruction of the environmental integrity and natural landscapes.

The importance of mining industry for Siberia and Mongolia is explained by their mineral resources specialization. Within the context of transitioning to sustainable (balanced) development, the high cost-effectiveness of the mining industry along with environmental compliance and the increase of social and living standards of the population are especially important.

This map reflecting the impact of mining on the environment was created to reveal the ecological component of sustainable development in the Baikal basin.

In the process of creating this map, the following library and published data were used: “National atlas of the Mongolian People’s Republic” (1990), “The ecological and geographic map of the Russian Federation” (1996), “Atlas of social and economic development of Russia” (2009), and “National atlas of Mongolia” (2009), etc. High-resolution satellite images (made in 2010-2013) were deciphered and used to examine the landscape structure of the territory. The state of the industrial sector and environment in the areas of mineral resources management was determined.

The objects of ecological evaluation were mineral deposits and mining enterprises. The information about them is provided on the basic maps that are part of this Atlas: “Fuel-energy resources and their development”, “Resources of ferrous, non-ferrous, and rare metals and their extraction”, “Basic types of nonmetallic materials, resources, and development”.

The biggest part of the researched area is part of the central and buffer zones of the Baikal Natural Territory within the Russian Federation. The Baikal basin in Mongolia is a natural continuation of this buffer zone. According to the Russian law “On the Protection of Lake Baikal”, the ecological zoning of the Baikal Natural Territory is the main tool for its implementation. Specific conservation restrictions are applied in the central ecological zone surrounding the Lake Baikal depression. Among the types of activities prohibited in this zone are the extraction of crude oil, natural gas, and radioactive and metal ores and the exploration and mining of previously undeveloped new deposits. The extraction of mineral resources within the water area of Baikal, in its water-protection zone, and in spawning rivers and their water-protection zones is prohibited.

In the buffer zone, the prospected and prepared for the development deposits, as well as mining operations are located within the ecological districts of Type 6, which includes industrial districts with a regulated intensive development. This type of districts is characterized by highly valuable landscapes and their components with an average or low sensitivity to stress. They mostly include the valley, piedmont, steppe and sub-taiga landscapes. The reason for singling out these districts is the importance of mining for the economy of the region. However, mining operations should not negatively affect the ecological system of Lake Baikal.

The cartographic evaluation of the technogenic disturbances of landscapes within the studied territories is provided for 380 mineral deposits. At present, 75 deposits are being developed. At 12 deposits mining operations are suspended, and they are either moth-balled or turned into reserves. The impact of mining enterprises on the environment is primarily determined by mining methods, the toxicity of raw materials and reagents used in processing, and landscape features.

The maximum impact on the environment, which is manifested in the drastic transformation of the relief with the formation of the technogenic denudation and accumulated forms, is caused by open-pit mining operations that remain a preferred mining method in the majority of cases due to economic considerations. On the territory under observation, 73 deposits are being developed by the open-pit mining method, and only 2 deposits are developed by the underground mining methods (the Bom-Gorkhon tungsten deposit and Nalaikh brown coal deposit). The main indicator of technogenic impact on the lithosphere is the area of disturbed land in square km, which is assessed using the following grades: I – over 10 km2 – the strongest impact, II – 1-10 km2 – strong impact, III – 0.1-1 km2 – moderate impact, IV – less than 0.1 km2 – weak impact. The largest disturbed land areas have been formed as a result of mining operations at the deposits of Erdenetiyn ovoo (Fig. 1), Gusinoozersky (Fig. 2), and Olon-Shibirskoe.

Sizable areas of disturbed lands in river valleys form due to the placer gold mining, which results in the intensification of erosion, change of structure and productivity of floodplains, pollution and deformation of riverbeds, decrease of groundwater level, and destruction of biotic components of ecosystems. On the surveyed territory, there are about 30 sites, where placer gold is being mined. Nearly all of them are located in the mountain river valleys of the Krasny Chikoy and Zakamensk district and the Selenge and Tov aimags. The maximum size of the disturbed land (about 40 sq. km) was found in the Tuul river valley (Fig. 3).

At the undeveloped deposits, the main source of the impact on the lithosphere are exploration works, including the development of drill holes and trenches, drilling, construction and exploitation of temporary roads and settlements. The area of such disturbances is relatively small and conventionally accepted as 0.01 sq. km.

The background indicator of technogenic disturbances of lands is the density (prevalence) of disturbances. This indicator is determined as a ratio of the total area of the disturbed land in an administrative district to the total area of this district. The following grades of disturbance are used (sq. km / thou. sq. km): I – over 10 – very high, II – 1.0 to 10 – high, III – 0.1 to 1.0 –intermediate, IV – 0.01 to 0.1 – low, V – less than 0.01 – lowest. Using this scale, the following aimags and districts have been classified as territories with a very high and high levels of land disturbance: the Orkhon, Darkhan-Uul, and Tuv aimags, Ulaanbaatar, the Petrovsk-Zabaikalsky, Zakamensky, Slyudyansky and Selenginsky districts.

At several operating mines, such as Olon-Shibirsky (coal), Tumurtolgoy (iron), Erdenetiyn ovoo (copper, molybdenum), Bom-Gorkhon (tungsten), Boroo (gold), etc., the extracted mineral resources undergo primary processing. In order to store or bury tailings, tailings ponds and dumps are created (Fig. 4). If built without paying due attention to filtering and other factors, they pose environmental risks and become the source of contamination of surface and ground water, as well as the atmosphere (dust). The most serious environmental consequences are found at the tailings ponds of the Erdenet Mining Company, Dzhidinsky tungsten-molybdenum mill (now shut down) and Kyakhta mill (currently not operating).

Extracted raw materials and enrichment products are classified into five categories of toxicity according to the degree of their ecological risk: I – very high: rare metal and radioactive ores, II – high: ores of nonferrous and precious metals, fluorite, III – increased: coal and brown coal, iron ores, IV – moderate: placer gold and tungsten, V – low: nonmetallic raw materials.

For every mining enterprise, environmental components (nature, economy, and people’s health) are differentiated by the degree of technogenic impact.

A negative impact on the environment and health is exemplified by the dumps and tailings ponds of the non-operating Dzhidinsky tungsten-molybdenum mill, which is located within the administrative borders of Zakamensk (Fig. 5). The production waste accumulated during the 50 years of the mill’s operations is a strong source of pollution contaminating the surface and ground water with toxic components and the air (dusting).

The mining enterprises are shown as symbols of varying shapes, sizes, structures and colors. The shape designates a mining method, the size shows the degree of land disturbance. The external contour (rim) shows landscape stability, while the internal contour points at its significance. The color of the contour corresponds to the values of indicators. A circle in the center of the map and its color show the level of toxicity or ecological risk of extracted materials and their enrichment products. The circles on the map designate the deposits undergoing different stages of geological exploration. The density of disturbed lands in administrative districts is reflected on the map using the quantitative background technique.

The map shows that the majority of mining enterprises is concentrated in the central most developed part of the territory. On the southwestern flank within the Mongolian part of the basin, there are many deposits, the majority of which are currently not developed. The lands are least disturbed in the northeast. In the central ecological zone of the Baikal Natural Territory, there are three operating non-ore deposits (the Angasolka deposit of construction stone, Slyudyanka cement marble deposit, and Tarakanovsky cement limestone deposit) located over 4 km away from the coast of Lake Baikal. The extracted materials belong to the low class of ecological risk. The development of these deposits is not included into the types of activities prohibited in the central ecological zone of the Baikal Natural Territory and does not significantly affect the ecosystem of Lake Baikal.

 

References

National atlas of Mongolia. (2009).

Atlas of social and economic development of Russia. (2009). Мoscow: Cartography. p 155-215.

The ecological and geographic map of the Russian Federation. Scale 1:4,000,000 (1996). Мoscow: GUGC.

National atlas of the Mongolian People’s Republic. (1990). Moscow-Ulaanbaatar. p 144

Fig. 1. Production and social infrastructure facilities at the copper molybdenum deposit Erdenetiyn Ovoo. There is a tailings pond in the northern part of the photo. The open pit is shown in the southern part, while production and residential zones – in the southwest.

Fig. 2. The nature of soil degradation at the Gusinoozersk brown coal field: open pits filled with water and waste rock dumps.

Fig. 3. Technogenic damages to the Tuul valley landscapes at a placer gold mine.

Fig. 4. Boroo gold mine: open pit is in the southwestern part of the photo, tailings pond is in the northeastern part of the photo.

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Crop map

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The use of agricultural lands: livestock husbandry and crop production

The agricultural production is one of the leading sectors of the economic complex of Mongolia. Two branches are traditionally presented in the structure of the gross agricultural production; they are livestock husbandry and crop production. A specific feature of Mongolia is the predominance of livestock products and reliance on the pasture management system. On a national scale, the agriculture of the Baikal region of the Russian Federation holds a modest place: less than 1% of agricultural production. In the East Siberian economic region Irkutsk oblast ranks second in the production of agricultural products after Krasnoyarsk krai; the Republic of Buryatia and Zabaikalsky krai rank third and fourth, respectively. Among the regions, included into the Siberian Federal District, Irkutsk oblast, the Republic of Buryatia, and Zabaikalsky krai rank 5th, 8th and 9thin the agricultural production, respectively. In the economy of Irkutsk oblast the agriculture plays a minor role. Its aim is to meet the needs of the local population in agricultural products. In Zabaikalsky krai and the Republic of Buryatia the agriculture is one of the leading production branches, which plays a key role in the livelihood of the population. The branch accounts for about 8.1% of the gross regional product in Irkutsk oblast, 12% - in Zabaikalsky krai, and 11.5% - in the Republic of Buryatia.

The agriculture develops under extreme environmental conditions: the agricultural territory belongs mainly to an area of ​​low biological activity, andits significant part is characterized by cold climate. Bioclimatic potential of the agricultural zone is 2-2.5 times lower than in the European agricultural zone. Consequently, to get a unit of agricultural production in the region requires more energy expenditures.

The agriculture of regions within the Lake Baikal basin includes two major branches, namely: livestock hus band dry and crop production, the shares of which in the gross agricultural output vary regionally: in Irkutsk oblast they are approximately equal; in Zabaikalsky krai, the Republic of Buryatia and Mongolia the leading branch of agriculture is livestock husbandry, the proportion of which is over 70%.

Areas of agricultural lands, which are in use by commercial farm units, engaged in the agricultural production, decrease year by year. Disposal of agricultural lands from agriculture is registered in almost all districts of the region. The main reason for the reduction of lands dedicated to agricultural production is the termination of activities of enterprises and organizations, and peasant farms. Another reason is the expiration of the agricultural tenancy (or temporary use) and its non-renewal by agricultural producers.

About 1% of agricultural lands of Russia are located within the Baikal region. The main agricultural lands are located in the forest-steppe areas and along river valleys. However, the provision of the population with agricultural lands per capita is sufficient, for example, in Irkutsk oblastit amounts to 1.1 ha, and in Zabaikalsky krai it is 6 ha (average provision index for Russia is 1.5 ha). In the total area of agricultural lands of Irkutsk oblast the share of arable lands accounts for 69%, the proportion of pastures is 20%, and meadows and hayfields cover 10%. In Zabaikalsky krai the largest areas are occupied by forage lands, meadows and hayfields, the proportion of which exceeds 80%. In the structure of agricultural lands of the Republic of Buryatia the share of arable lands is 30%. Sown lands are used mainly for cereal crops (more than 75%), among which wheat occupies more than 45%. The yield of cereals on the average is low (8-9 centners per ha), but in some farms it can reach up to 20 and more centners per ha. Potatoes and vegetables are widely cultivated for one’s own needs. Sown lands under these crops amount to slightly more than 8%, of them under vegetables is 1.0%. Vegetable production is concentrated mainly around cities and settlements. In Irkutsk oblast in the Baikal natural territory lands of four districts, namely, Irkutsky, Shelekhovsky, Slyudyansky and Olkhonsky, are involved into the agricultural exploitation. Furthermore, two districts –Olkhonsky and Irkutsky – are typically “agricultural”, where agriculture is one of the leading sectors of the economic complex. In contrast to the Irkutsky and Olkhonsky districts, in the Sludyansky district the scarcity of land resources does not allow to develop agricultural production, but the district has formed a high-intensity horticultural sector with commercial cultivation of strawberries. Currently, this resource is not included in the turnover of the legal economy of the district; it is not processed on a commercial scale, and it is realized by private buyers, who do not pay taxes. Processing of local horticultural resources is included in the plan of the production diversification in the town of Baikalsk within the framework of the program of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill conversion. In Mongolia, the total sown areas of ​​cereal crops and potatoes amount to 283.6 thousand ha and 13.6 thousand ha, respectively. Currently, the leaders in the production of cereals and potatoes are the Selenge and Bulgan aimaks.

In the structure of the gross agricultural output a quintessential role belongs to the livestock husbandry. The development of the livestock husbandry, especially sheep and beef cattle breeding, is facilitated by the presence of large areas of dry grazing lands, where valuable forage herbs grow, and by a thin snow cover in winter, enabling year-round cattle grazing along with relatively small quantities of fodder procured for winter. In the structure of the fodder base for all species the proportion of natural coarse and green forage accounts for 75 to 85% of all fodder. The foundation stock of farm animals is managed in the private sector. The livestock husbandry is represented by various branches; in the forest area of the region it is dairy-meat farming, and in the south, including Mongolia, it is distant-pasture beef-dairy and beef cattle breeding, meat-wool sheep breeding, and horse and pig husbandry. Moreover, goat breeding is traditionally represented in the aimaks of Mongolia, and camel husbandry is an auxiliary branch. Most farms produce milk and beef, implementing the so-called full cycle of a herd based on internal specialization of farms, producing milk and breeding young-stock.

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Culture. Education

Education and culture are important parameters of the quality of life of population in particular areas. To some extent, they characterize the standard of life and “spiritual environment”. The main source of information for creating these maps included official statistical data for 2012 (in some cases for 2011). Materials of the Russian Federal State Statistics Service and Mongolian statistical yearbooks were also used in this work.

Cultural establishments

Cultural establishments are keepers and successors of the historical and cultural memory of the people, as well as mediators in its transfer to the next generations. Usually, cultural establishments include libraries, museums, theaters, clubs, cultural centers, cinemas, leisure centers, and cultural complexes.

In the Baikal basin, there are about 1,770 cultural establishments. The total number of cultural-and-leisure centers in this region is 875. There are 720 libraries, 106 museums, 30 theaters, 36 cinemas, and 4 circuses. In the Russian part of the basin, there are 247 children’s music, art, and dance schools. Each administrative district has cultural-and-leisure centers (clubs) and libraries. Most of the districts also have museums.

Cultural life is most vividly represented in the major cities of Ulaanbaatar, Irkutsk, Chita, and Ulan-Ude. There are famous theaters, museums, circuses, large libraries, and cinemas.

Museums serve as the main tool of memory materialization. Often, they focus on local history and ethnography. Museums give tourists information emphasizing the originality and specificity of a particular place, its nature, history, and culture. Thematically, museums of regional centers (Ulaanbaatar, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, and Chita) are quite diverse. In the Irkutsk part of the basin, the most valuable collections are kept at the oldest museums, such as the V. P. Sukachev Museum of Art, Irkutsk Museum of Regional Studies, Taltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture and Ethnography, Historical and Memorial Museum of Decembrists, and Baikal Museum of the Irkutsk Scientific Center SB RAS in Listvyanka. Among the largest museums in the Republic of Buryatia are the Sampilov Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Natural History of Buryatia, and Ethnographic Museum (all in Ulan-Ude), as well as the Kyakhta Museum of Regional Studies. The prevailing type of museums in Zabaikalsky krai are historical museums of regional studies illustrating the rich history of the region’s development and the life of Decembrists and other exiles. The State Central Museum of Mongolia holds a comprehensive and unique collection of artifacts offering an opportunity to learn about the country’s natural history.

Theatrical life in the region is represented by a number of establishments. There are the Okhlopkov Academic Drama Theatre, Zagursky Musical Theatre, Puppet Theatre “Aistenok”, Vampilov Youth Theatre, and Children’s Circus in Irkutsk. In the Republic of Buryatia, there are the Buryat State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, steeped in tradition Khotsa Namsaraev Buryat State Academic Drama Theatre, and Nikolay Bestuzhev State Russian Drama Theatre, which is the oldest theatre company in the Republic. In Buryatia, there are also avant-garde theaters, namely, the Ulan-Ude Youth Theatre-Studio and Theatre-Studio of Modern Body Movement and Pantomime “AzArt”. There are also Buryat State Philharmonic, song and dance ensemble “Baikal”, state theatre of folk dance “Badma-Seseg”, and Puppet Theatre “Uliger”. In Chita, there are the Zabaikalsky Regional Drama Theatre and Zabaikalsky Puppet Theater “Tridevyatoe Tsarstvo” (“Far Away Kingdom”). Famous Mongolian theatres include the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre and Mongolian State Drama Theater (D. Natsagdorzh State Drama Theatre). The Mongolian circus has existed for more than 60 years and is the “Brand of Mongolia”. It has a circus school.

Libraries collect books and other publications and specifically process them. They also promote and organize mass campaigns with readers. Libraries have different specializations and subject matters. There are libraries of the Ministry of Culture, schools, universities and colleges, departmental libraries, and so on. In Irkutsk, there is the I. I. Molchanov-Sibirsky Irkutsk State Universal Scientific Library, which has been serving readers of the Angara region since 1861. In Ulan-Ude, there is the National Library of Buryatia, which is a modern informational institution. In Chita, there is the A. S. Pushkin Zabaikalsky Regional Universal Scientific Library. In Ulaanbaatar, there is the State Public Library of Mongolia. Its collections include the smallest Buddhist sutra in the country “The Story of the Green Tara”.

Cinemas are designed to entertain the population. Modern cinemas also perform different forms of leisure functions. In Irkutsk, Ulaanbaatar, Ulan-Ude, and Chita, there are 15, 6, 5, and 4 cinemas, respectively.

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