Long delay for North Pole Station | Polarjournal
A model of the drift ice station “Severny Polyus” in the exhibition. (Photo: Roshydromet)

Russia’s ice-breaking research station should have been ready to drift over Arctic waters as early as 2020. Construction of the 84-metre-long and 22.5-metre-wide facility, which officially began at the end of December 2018, was originally scheduled to be completed within two years. The ship, called “Severny Polyus”, will be the world’s first ship of its kind. The Russian meteorological service Roshydromet says it will be of utmost importance for its scientific activities in the rapidly changing Arctic region.

The “Severny Polyus” will be able to operate autonomously in the Arctic ice for up to two years. (Photo: Roshydromet)

But the ambitious timetable cannot be met. According to the Kommersant newspaper, the “Severny Polyus” will not be ready until 2022 at the earliest. And the project will be much more expensive than planned. The ship originally had a budget of 6.97 billion rubles (90 million euros), but sources now say that the actual sum will be up to 2.5 billion rubles (32 million euros) higher.

The “Severny Polyus” is being built on the Admiralty Yards and designed by the Vympel Design Bureau, who cooperated with Roshydromet and the Arctic and Antarctic Institute (AARI). The ship was officially laid down on April 10 2019. (Photo: Roshydromet)

Technical problems

The reason for the delay is a number of substantial upgrades to the project requested by the project owner Roshydromet. These retrofits also include an increase in the ship’s load-bearing capacity.

The projected “Severny Polyus” originally had a load capacity of 10,390 tons and an engine power that would allow it to move through light ice at a speed of 10 knots.

In addition, the project developers have encountered major technical challenges. Representatives of the Russian United Shipbuilding Corporation confirm to Kommersantnewspaper that there are difficulties with the ship’s fuel system, which is expected to allow up to two years of autonomous operation in remote waters. Such an installation has never been built before, the developers emphasize. They also point to technical challenges related to the cooling systems and the drive system. The “Severny Polyus” will have a crew of 14 people and teams of up to 34 researchers.

North Pole-1 – On May 21, 1937, an ANT-6 dropped the expedition on an ice floe. It was located 20 kilometres from the North Pole after an initial preliminary position determination. On May 27 and June 5, three other aircraft landed, with 43 men on the ice at times. Tents were set up and ten tons of cargo were unloaded. On June 7, the planes took off again, leaving the four expedition members and a dog behind. (Photo: Archive)

Arctic research has a tradition

“A total of 40 expeditions have been carried out since 1937, but due to global warming and the melting of ice in the early 2000s, we were forced to stop the program,” said institute director Aleksandr Makarov at the ceremony. “Building a self-propelled ice-protected platform allows us to continue important studies of the Arctic Ocean in the Arctic ice,” he said.

According to the research director, the platform will be used for geological, acoustic, geophysical and marine studies. Up to 70 percent of all information about the Arctic territories is now provided by Russia, Makarov said at the ceremony at the Admiralty Yard.

The “Severny Polyus” will be able to make its way through the ice on its own. But it does not have the ability to break the ice, Makarov points out. It is the platform’s ability to allow researchers to live in the ice for long periods of time.

North Pole-1 was the first polar station set up by the Soviet Union in 1937 on a drifting ice floe at the North Pole. The ice drift station was led by Ivan Papanin and also included the scientists Evgeny Fyodorov and Pyotr Petrovich Zhirzhov as well as the radio operator Ernst Krenkel. In 274 days, the station “Nordpol-1” had covered a total of 2,500 kilometers. (Photo: Archive)

Research since 1937

The Soviet Union, and later Russia, has had floating research stations in the Arctic since 1937, with a break in 1991-2003.

In recent years, the research station usually was built on an ice floe in September-October, and about two dozen scientists spent the winter there to measure climate and weather conditions. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to find ice floes that are solid enough to hold a station.

The last “real” ice station, “North Pole-40”, was built in October 2012 and had to be evacuated in May 2013 because the ice floe on which the base was located started to break up. The 16 scientists who had spent the winter on the floe had to be rescued by a nuclear-powered icebreaker from Murmansk.

Russia did not set up drift ice stations in 2013-2014 or 2014-2015. In April 2015, they set up a station called “Nordpol 2015”, which lasted only four months and was evacuated. (Photo: Kommersant)

Icecamp Barneo

Russians have also operated the privately run ice base “Barneo”. Since 2002, the base has been built on ice floes near the North Pole. But in recent years, the increasingly unstable ice conditions have worried the operator. In 2018, the campers on “Barneo” had to pack and leav it just 12 days after the opening of the base because of the breaking ice.

For almost 20 years, the IceCamp “Barneo” has been built near the North Pole. The future is uncertain due to climate change and therefore thin and unstable ice. (Photo: Heiner Kubny)

In 2019, the barneo camp season was cancelled before it began after Ukraine-operated An-74 aircraft failed to obtain permission to fly to the high Arctic. In 2020, the construction of the camp was not even started after the worldwide COVID-19 incidents.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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