Russia wants to resume drift ice stations | Polarjournal
The “Akademik Treshnikov” is a Russian research vessel, which has already participated in several expeditions since its commissioning in 2011. Between December 2016 and March 2017, the vessel was deployed for the ‘Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition’ (ACE). (Photo: AARI)

Russia’s scientists will resume Arctic studies of drift ice stations after a years-long hiatus. In September 2022, the RSV “Akademik Treshnikov” will set out on the first expedition of this kind. Scientists will carry out dozens of projects during the planned expedition. This was reported by the Russian news agency TASS.

Drift ice stations are a research platform on a drifting ice floe in the Arctic Ocean. In the Soviet Union and later in Russia, drift ice stations went down in history under the name “North Pole” (NP). The first station, “Nordpol-1”, started its work in 1937. On 21 May 1937, an ANT-6 set the expedition down on an ice floe only about 20 kilometres from the North Pole.

The drift ice station “Nordpol-1” was led by Ivan Papanin and also included the scientists Yevgeny Fedorov and Pyotr Petrovich Shirshov, as well as the radio operator Ernst Krenkel. Otto Schmidt was responsible for the entire project. The drift ice station covered 2,850 kilometres within 274 days. The station’s scientists were taken aboard the icebreaker “Taimyr” on 19 February 1938.

The drift ice station North Pole-1 was launched in a secret operation near the North Pole. At the start of the expedition, the ice floe was 3200 by 1600 metres and three metres thick. (Photo: Archive)

“North Pole-22” holds a unique record with a service life of nine years. It covered a distance of 17,069 kilometres from 13 September 1973 to 8 April 1982.

Not everything always went according to plan. The team from the last drift ice station, NP-40, had to be evacuated from the ice floe breaking apart after only a few months. A seasonal NP-2015 station was in operation for a period of time in 2015.

Russian researchers have been conducting experiments on drift ice stations in the Arctic Ocean since 1937. The picture shows the drift ice station “Nordpol-2015” shortly before evacuation. (Photo: TASS)

Research of drift ice stations are reissued

“We hope that this expedition will take place in September next year,” said the director of the Russian Hydrometeorology University’s Moscow office, Yuri Sychev. “We will freeze the research and survey ship “Akademik Tryoshnikov” into the ice. The ship is remarkably equipped for it.”

During the NP-2022 expedition, a camp with a landing strip and helipad will be set up next to the ship frozen in the ice. During the expedition, scientists and crew work in shifts, and additional equipment and material can be procured if required.

The scientific program of NP-2022 was initiated by the experts led by the President of the Polar Explorers Association, Russia’s Artur Chilingarov. The program has nine major directions, including atmospheric studies, biology, hydroacoustics, medical-biological studies, space weather studies, and materials and shipbuilding research.

From a geological perspective, the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean is poorly explored. The mountain range will be crossed twice during the expedition. (Graphic: Geology.com)

Unique studies

“The atmospheric program of this expedition is in some ways unique and better than the atmospheric program of the European MOSAiC expedition,said Alexei Nadykto, an expert from Moscow’s Stankin Technology University.

“The program includes a wide range of studies that have never been done in the Arctic,” he said. “First of all, these are studies of aerosols, their physical and chemical structures, Arctic and microbiological characteristics. Such studies were usually conducted in stationary polar camps and in a rather limited manner,” Alexei Nadykto further opined.

According to the deputy director of the Schmidt Institute for Physics of the Earth, Alexei Sobisevich, the areas over which the drift is planned are too little studied from a geological point of view. One of them is the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean.

Zubov State Oceanographic Institute scientist Sergey Tambiyev added that the drift route will cross the Gakkel Ridge twice. While the western part has been studied, the eastern part has remained virtually unexplored, he said.

Specialists are also planning ecology studies, including a relatively new problem for the Arctic, plastic and microplastic pollution. Igor Bobrovnitsky, deputy director general of the Center for Strategic Planning and Management of Medical-Biological Risks, told TASS that the participants of the expedition would be the subject of the studies. “During drifting, the diet to optimize adaptation will include so-called specialized foods that contain the necessary nutrients, vitamins and microelements,” he said

A new generation of drift ice stations is already under construction. The “Serverny Polus” will be operational in the Arctic Ocean upon completion, expected in 2023. The ship will be able to operate autonomously in the Arctic ice for up to 2 years. (Foto: Roshydromet)

Back on the ice

More than a hundred years ago, the famous polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen expressed the idea of conducting scientific studies on board a ship frozen in the ice. He implemented the idea during the Fram expedition. The Soviet Union organized scientific camps directly on ice floes. Ivan Papanin’s NP-1 occupied an ice floe three kilometers by five.

In 2013, NP-40 was evacuated due to a critical threat to the station itself and its personnel. “At that time, it was clear that the traditional Papanin-style stations, when people stayed on the drift ice, were very risky because the ice could no longer be considered a reliable platform due to climate changes,” said Yuri Sychev of the Russian Hydrometeorology University in Moscow.

After the drift ice stations were suspended, “the flow of data from the central Arctic basin was cut off,” he continued. This shortage is very critical in times of major climate change.

The recent idea of organizing drift ice stations on board a ship frozen in the ice arose practically simultaneously in Russia and in the EU. The Europeans had organized the MOSAiC polar expedition, while Russia did not send another North Pole station expedition in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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