Remote Sensing and Local Knowledge of Hydrocarbon Exploitation: The Case of Bovanenkovo, Yamal Peninsula, West Siberia, Russia


  • T. Kumpula
  • B.C. Forbes
  • F. Stammler



Nenets, reindeer migration, Quickbird-2, SPOT, Aster VNIR, Landsat, Arctic tundra, oil and gas activities, human impact


The capacity of satellite imagery to detect anthropogenic impacts on land cover was assessed for the Bovanenkovo gas field on the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia, which contains some of the world’s largest untapped gas deposits. The region is also the homeland of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders, whose annual migration between the tree line and the northern tundra exposes them to impacts associated with exploration and production activities. These range from physical obstructions, such as roads, railways, and pipelines, to direct and indirect ecological impacts, such as changes in vegetation and hydrology. Nenets’ perceptions of their territories encompass changes in the quantity and quality of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and campsites that have been used seasonally for centuries. Industrial impacts on land cover were examined at spatial scales from very detailed to coarse. Very-high-resolution Quickbird-2 imagery revealed the most impacts, but could not detect items like trash that reduce the quality of reindeer pastures. ASTER, SPOT, and Landsat imagery were useful at the broader landscape level. A proper assessment of the overall ecological impacts of hydrocarbon exploitation requires a combination of remote sensing and detailed ground-truthing. Ideally, these efforts should combine scientific and local knowledge from both indigenous herders and non-indigenous industrial workers.