The city of Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia has always been a center of geographical research, lying as it does at a crossroads of major expeditions. Way back in 1851 Irkutsk became the seat of the Siberian branch of the Russian Geographical Society. Working in the city on the Angara were such celebrated scientists as Ivan Chersky, Danhl Messerschmidt, Alexander Chekanovsky, Academician Vladimir Obruchev and many other big names. Today their work is carried on by the Institute of Geography (Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences). Its deputy director Alexander Antipin (Cand. Sc., Geography) elaborates:
Now let's recall; geography studies natural and social conditions in various parts of the Earth, their economic aspects. In a nutshell, it is involved with the sphere of human life. I would even say this: geography is a philosophical perception of what we see around us in its interdependence, unity and development. No doubt people shall always need this science. Yet in today's Russia it is living through hard times. As a matter of fact, geographical research calls for immense investments. Say, throughout Russia and here at our Institute we used to have a network of permanent testing ranges and stations equipped with special gear for carrying out observations of all changes in environmental parameters. Proceeding from rather sophisticated models based on the data thus obtained, we conceptualized the development of whole territories. Such work was on for decades.
But today we cannot afford to go on with such costly pursuits. And so we have reoriented ourselves to other methods of research - for instance, to remote- control techniques used in the interpretation of aerospace photographs, and to the hands-on application of GIS (Geographical Information System) technologies now much in vogue. All that has enabled us to collect vast data with much less outlays. Another important line in the activities of our Institute is the development of innovative methods of cartography that make it possible to process data with good efficiency. Relying on these new methods, our Institute has produced a huge number of most diverse maps.
Practical work is also helping us over the hump. Thus we are taking care of the ecological side of many large projects in the national economy. Since 1991 we have been engaged in ecoactivities at the Kovytkinsky gas-condensate project in Eastern Siberia. We are concerned with such things as the efficiency of this project, ways of minimizing the environmental hazards there and, jointly with the company Russia Petroleum, are arriving at acceptable solutions. At present our experts are examining the work on choosing an appropriate route for a gas pipeline from Russia to China. We are likewise taking part in smaller projects - there have been more than a hundred in recent years; apart from practical benefits, we have obtained a wealth of information that will be of much use for basic research in the future.
And last, we are expanding cooperation with our colleagues abroad. Together with German specialists we have completed the landscape planning of territories bordering on Lake Baikal. Drawing on these research data, we have drafted a law on the territorial development of the Irkutsk region. Such kind of work helps us find optimal approaches to the sustainable territorial development of Eastern Siberia too. Our methods could well be applied elsewhere in Russia, and we have tested them with much success in the Yaroslavl region.