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The Ural Mountains extend for approximately 1,000 miles in a generally north-south orientation in Russia from the Kirgiz Steppe in Kazakhstan to the Kara Sea on the Arctic Ocean. Novaya Zemlya, an island in the Arctic Ocean, is an extension of the Urals. This mountain range is geologically quite old and dates from the Carboniferous period. The Urals formed when the Siberian plate impacted on the more massive Laurasian Plate. Because of their age the mountains are worn down and reduced through erosion. The average height of the range is 3,000-4,000 feet and the highest peak is Mount Narodnaya at 6,214 feet. The Urals mark the unofficial but traditional boundary between Europe and Siberia.
The Middle Urals are densely forested and rich in mineral wealth. The famous Urals Industrial Region was developed in the Middle Urals region and is based on mining and industry. The region is comprised of the Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, Kurgan, Orenburg and Perm oblasts. The Middle Urals region has extensive deposits of iron, copper, chromium, bauxite, lead, zinc, gold, platinum, potassium, magnesium, asbestos, and other important minerals. There are major oil fields in the region but no coalfields. Industries within the region reflect its mineral wealth: Metallurgical, chemical, and heavy industries are dominant. The Urals Industrial Region developed rapidly during World War II with the movement of industrial capability from the Russian Plain in the west to prevent it from attack by German forces. Industry and mining give way to pasture lands in the Southern Urals.
Ekaterinaberg, an industrialized city of over 1.3 million people, is the self-proclaimed capital of the Urals. The city has experienced a variety of environmental contamination problems resulting from years of accumulated pollution from the multitude of industries both within the city and the surrounding region. There is a high degree of water pollution from heavy metals and deposits of tailings from the many mines. The problem of thermal pollution is also found in streams and lakes near the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant, which is 15 miles from Ekaterinaberg.
Scientists in the region are well aware of the dangers of environmental degradation in the Urals Industrial Region. The Ural Environmental Union, a composite of government officials, environmental activists, and scientists has taken the lead in gathering information on pollution problems and in developing programs to rectify the situation. Another organization, the Institute of Industrial Ecology, is leading a program to set environmental priorities for the Urals. The program is called “The Assessment of Priorities for Middle Urals’ Environmental Pollution Protection.” Its initial focus area is the Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk oblasts. The plan calls for a series of environmental studies at local levels with the results subsequently extrapolated to the region. The project includes development of methods for establishing priorities for future environmentally related projects and to ensure sound economic growth as well.
International collaboration is an important part of the effort and experts from the United States will play a role in implementing pollution protection safeguards learned in addressing comparable problems. Eradicating environmental degradation in the Urals and establishing effective programs to avoid serious levels of pollution in the future will not be an easy task. Decades of environmental disruption and the accumulation of a wide variety of pollutants presents an enormous challenge. Also, there is the need to maintain high levels of industrial activity in the region while environmental remediation is underway.
- Edward A. Keller, Introduction to Environmental Geology, 3rd ed. (Prentice Hall, 2004);
- John J.W. Rogers and P. Geoffrey Feiss, People and the Earth (Cambridge University Press, 1998);
- Les Rountree, Martin Lewis, Marie Price, and William Wycoff, Diversity and Globalization: World Regions, Environment, Development, 3rd ed. (Prentice Hall, 2005);
- Denis J. Shaw, Russia in the Modern World (Blackwell, 1999).