Black Sea can go up in a fireball – a looming natural disaster

Yesterdays act of terrorism when Ukraine blew up the Kahovskaja HPP dam creates not only a military and humanitarian difficulty for Russia, not only does it create a short-term ecological disaster, killing hundreds of thousands of animals in one swipe, not only does it create a mid-term epidemiological disaster, when ll that has been washed off begins to rot and decompose, it also exacerbates a long-term looming catastrophe hanging over the Black Sea. As it stands now, the sea is already on the verge of going up in a hige fireball, and any additional dumps of the sediments and warm water only hasten that outcome.

Below is a translation of an article by “Argumenty i Fakty” from the 29th of May 2023.

Deep poison. A scientist from Turkey warns of a catastrophe of the Black Sea

Turkish geologist, Professor Osman Bektash warned about the impending danger to all who live on the Black Sea coast. According to him, global climate change is to blame.

The middle layer is thinning

Insufficient precipitation and an increase in temperatures above average values have led to the fact that life in the depths of this sea has become impoverished. The number of fish has decreased, the diversity of biological species has decreased. But that’s not even the main concern.

The Black Sea is practically a closed basin, it is connected to the World Ocean through the narrow Bosphorus Strait. The rivers flowing into it — the Dnieper, Dniester, and Danube — have deposited silt over millions of years, which settled on the bottom and produced hydrogen sulfide as a result of chemical reactions. The excess of this gas with a foul smell of rotten eggs in the depths is the most famous and unusual feature of the Black Sea. It accumulated there for a long time, and since its solution is heavier than water, hydrogen sulfide concentrated in the deepest places.

In fact, only the top 100 meters of the Black Sea is pure water. All its animals live in this layer. And everything that is deeper is poisonous hydrogen sulfide, in which there are no plants or animals. Only certain types of bacteria can be found there. This was recalled by the Turkish scientist Osman Bektash.

“The Black Sea has a unique structure,” he told the Bulgarian information resource bTV. — It consists of three layers: the upper one is an environment up to 50 meters thick, where there is a lot of oxygen and where the marine inhabitants live. There is a cold intermediate layer under it (the temperature is about 8 °C). While the poisonous gases prevail at the bottom, no one lives there.”

According to the scientist, the middle layer plays an important role in the constant cooling of the upper layer, acting like an air conditioner. But the trouble is — it began to thin out due to climate warming and a decrease in the flow of cold river waters into the sea basin. The process of destruction of the structure of the Black Sea and its further death, the researcher is convinced, can no longer be prevented or reversed.

“In the future, the lower layer will mix with the upper one, and toxic gases will begin to pose a threat to people living near the sea,” the Turkish scientist said.

The effect of Sodom and Gomorrah

This threat has been known for a long time, and has written about it more than once. Seven years ago, Anatoly Shevchuk, professor of the Department of Environmental Management and Environmental Protection of the RANEPA, said that the border of the “dead zone” of the Black Sea is constantly rising, approaching the surface.

“Since the middle of the twentieth century, it has risen from a 400-meter depth to 50, and in some places — up to 30 meters. According to many signs, the Black Sea is close to a near—death state,” the scientist warned. — And in a few years’ time hydrogen sulfide can lead to a global catastrophe, which, according to the most optimistic forecasts, will have to relocate millions of people living on the coast.

The worst case scenario is also being considered: when a critical mass is reached from a banal short circuit of electrical wiring, a lightning strike or an earthquake, hydrogen sulfide can explode.”

It is appropriate to recall the earthquakes on the Crimean peninsula that occurred in 1927. Then, 30 kilometers west of Sevastopol, fire pillars and curtains were seen in the sea. According to the scientific hypothesis, it was burning hydrogen sulfide, ejected from the depths. But then it was not as close to the surface as it is now — its emissions were local in nature.

Chief Researcher of the Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences Alexander Gorodnitsky draws attention to the fact that the threat comes not only from hydrogen sulfide, although this gas at high concentrations can cause respiratory paralysis:

“There are also gas hydrates at the bottom of the Black Sea — accumulations of methane and other combustible gases compressed under high pressure. From time to time they break the surface. This is a seismically active region, there are earthquakes that provoke these emissions. In addition, methane is released through cracks in the earth’s crust, and if it flares up, then the effect will materialise as if the sea itself is burning, which happened during the Yalta earthquake of 1927, described in Ilf and Petrov’s “12 chairs”. A similar effect may have been observed during the destruction of the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

How can the sea be saved?

In general, scientists do not have a complete understanding of what is happening in the Black Sea basin right now. It is only clear that the probability of a natural disaster exists — it is different from zero. So, we need to think about ways to prevent it.

Back in the 1960s, Soviet engineers proposed a technology to neutralize hydrogen sulfide from the Black Sea, and at the same time find use for it in the national economy. They were going to build a production complex on the coast: seawater would be constantly pumped from the depth and passed through a special installation. It would separate hydrogen sulfide and decompose it into sulphur and hydrogen.

While the idea was being optimised and coordinated, Perestroika broke out. It prevented the realization of the idea of the Soviet scientists. But why not remember it these days? Hydrogen is an environmentally friendly fuel, and now a certain stake is being placed on energy using this gas, including in Russia. In addition, it can be used in metallurgy, where it also reduces harmful emissions into the atmosphere.

As for sulphur, it finds application in the construction of highways, reducing bitumen costs, improving the quality of the coating, heat resistance and service life of the roadway. Some Russian research institutes already have working prototypes for the production of sulphur concrete and asphalt concrete.

It is equally important that during the processing of hydrogen sulfide, it is possible to obtain electricity and send it to the settlements of the Krasnodar Territory and the Republic of Crimea. The capacity of several complexes is enough to provide electricity to the whole region.

There are other projects. For example, not to extract hydrogen sulfide from the depth, but to carry out all manipulations with it under water by immersing an autonomous energy complex there. Working directly in the hydrogen sulfide layer, this installation will deliver either hydrogen or the received electricity to the coast.

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