Drift ice stations are Russian tradition | Polarjournal
The self-propelled polar platform “Severny Polyus” can be frozen in the Arctic ice for two years without external support for research purposes. (Foto: Roshydromet)

The self-propelled polar platform “Severny Polyus” was launched in St. Petersburg on Friday, December 18, 2020. “Severny Polyus” is a platform with the functionality of a research center and can reach the operational area without icebreakers. The ship will allow scientists to continue the regular studies in the Central Arctic that have been conducted with drift stations for nearly 80 years.

The shell of the “Severny Polyus” was built at Admiralty Shipyards within 1½ years. (Photo: Admiralty Shipyards)

The platform was commissioned by Roshydromet in 2018 and was launched in April 2019. It was to replace the drifting stations that operated regularly from 1937 to 2015. Due to climate change, it has become increasingly difficult to find perennial ice fields with a thickness of two to three meters, which is necessary for the operation of a drifting station. The ice floes became increasingly short-lived and broke up after only a short time. In addition, the organization of the expeditions required the use of nuclear icebreakers, which increased the cost of the expeditions.

Another two years will be needed until the “Severny Polyus” is commissioned. This work is done from a pier. (Photo: Admiralty Shipyards)

It is assumed that the self-propelled platform will reach the study area unassisted, freeze into the ice, and drift along with the ice. The fuel supply and infrastructure of the “Severny Polyus” is designed to allow 34 scientists to work in 15 laboratories for two years without external supply. The technical crew of the ship consists of 14 persons.

The platform provides comfortable and safe working and living conditions for the crew and scientific personnel at outside temperatures down to -50° Celsius and 85% humidity.

The interior will provide many amenities for the researchers and crew. Single cabins are available to all members on board. (Photo: Admiralty Shipyards)

At present the “Severny Polyus” consists only of the steel hull. Completion of the ship to its ice-strengthened platform is scheduled for 2022. During this time, the interior of the cabins, the electrical installation, the installation of navigation equipment, mechanisms, pipes and the arrangement of the scientific laboratories will be concluded. The ship will also be equipped with a landing pad for the Mi-8 and Mi-38 multi-purpose helicopters. The “Severny Polyus” is 83.1 meters long and 22.5 meters wide. In open waters, the platform has a speed of at least 10 knots.

North Pole-1 was the first polar station established by the then Soviet Union in 1937 on a drifting ice floe at the North Pole. “North Pole-1” was led by Ivan Papanin and also included scientists Yevgeny Fedorov and Pyotr Shirshov, and radio operator Ernst Krenkel. (Photo: Archive)

Drifting ice stations have a long Russian tradition

The first drift ice station “North Pole-1” was opened in 1937: Four scientists led by Ivan Papanin spent about nine months on the ice. After the war, in the 1950s, the work of research stations on ice was resumed. By 1991, 30 expeditions had been working in the Arctic. Sometimes two stations at the same time had been established on the ice. In 2003, the first post-Soviet station, “North Pole-32”, was established on the ice. Scientists at the drifting ice stations studied sea ice, the state of the atmosphere, currents, the ecological situation and the climate. But problems already arose then: In March 2004, Russian SAR teams had to bring to safety twelve polar explorers from the “North Pole 32” station in distress. Two helicopters took the scientists and two dogs on board shortly before dusk.

The drifting ice station, “North Pole-40”, was established in October 2012 and had to be evacuated again by May 2013 as the ice floe began to break apart. The 16 scientists who had spent the winter on the floe had to be rescued by an icebreaker rushed from Murmansk.

The last drifting ice station was “North Pole 2015”. However, this station had to be evacuated after only 4 months. No further attempts were made to get a station on the ice. (Photo: TASS)

Russia did not establish any more drifting stations in 2013-2015. In April 2015, “North Pole 2015” was the last attempt to bring a station onto the ice. This plan failed and had to be abandoned after only 4 months. This was partly due to climate change in the Arctic.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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