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Russia NP-39 polar explorers start innovative Arctic experiments

January 08, 2012, 8:33 UTC+3
Information about snow depth and ice thickness, air temperature is transmitted on a real time basis to St. Petersburg
1 pages in this article
Photo ITAR-TASS

Photo ITAR-TASS

ST. PETERSBURG, January 8 (Itar-Tass) — Russian polar explorers on the North Pole-39 (NP-39) station in the Arctic have launched the autonomous Mass Balance Buoy to determine the ice mass and atmospheric parameters, head of the high-latitude Arctic expedition Vladimir Sokolov of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) of the Federal Service of Russia for Hydrometeorology and Monitoring of the Environment (Rosgidromet) told Itar-Tass on Saturday.

Sokolov said that the “information about snow depth and ice thickness, temperature distribution within the ice, atmospheric pressure and air temperature is transmitted on a real time basis to St. Petersburg via a satellite system to the national and international data collection systems for use in meteorological computational models of the ocean and atmosphere.”

The source added that over the past week seven temperature and wind probings of the atmosphere were made. The average height of the sounding air balloon is 32 km. The information is promptly transmitted through the communication channels to the State Data Network. Seven atmospheric soundings have been carried out with the use of the SBE 19 Plus sensor south of the Alpha ridge. Standard meteorological observations of air temperature and relative humidity, wind speed and direction and the temperature of the underlying surface were continued.

Sokolov said that “all polar researchers are in good health.” The wireless data-processing network uniting all personal computers of the station operates stably. Diesel generators ensure uninterrupted electric power supply to the consumers. Two tractors and three snowmobiles are in the working condition. Since the opening of the station the general drift reached 708 km, the representative of the Rosgidromet institute said.

NP stations carry out the program of complex year-round research in the fields of oceanology, ice studies, meteorology, aerology, geophysics, hydrochemistry, hydrophysics, as well as in the field of marine biology. On average, an NP station is the host for 600 to 650 ocean depth measurements, 3500 to 3900 complex meteorology measurements, 1200 to 1300 temperature measurements and sea water probes for chemical analysis, 600 to 650 research balloon launches. Magnetic, ionosphere, ice and other observations are also carried out there. Regular measurements of the ice flow coordinates provide the data on the direction and speed of its drift.

The modern NP drifting ice station resembles a small settlement with housing for polar explorers and special buildings for the scientific equipment. Usually an NP station begins operations in April and continues for two or three years until the ice floe reaches the Greenland Sea. Polar explorers are substituted yearly. Since 1937 some 800 people were drifting at "NP" stations.

There are two groups of NP stations: stations, drifting on the pack ice (i.e. relatively thin and short-lived ice): NP-1 through NP-5, NP-7 through NP-17, NP-20, NP-21; and stations, drifting on ice islands (glacier fragments, that were split from the shore): NP-6, NP-18, NP-19, NP-22. All NP stations are organized by the Russian (former Soviet) Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI).

An idea to use the drift ice for the exploration of nature in the high latitudes of the Arctic Ocean belongs to Fridtjof Nansen, who fulfilled it on Fram between 1893 and 1896. The first stations to use drift ice as means of scientific exploration of the Arctic originated in the Soviet Union in 1937, when the first such station in the world, North Pole-1, started operations.

North Pole-1 was established on May 21, 1937 some 20 km from the North Pole by the expedition into the high latitudes Sever-1, led by Otto Schmidt. NP-1 operated for 9 months, during which the ice floe travelled 2,850 kilometres. On February 19, 1938, Soviet ice breakers Taimyr and Murman took off four polar explorers from the station, who immediately became famous in the USSR and were awarded titles Hero of the Soviet Union: hydrobiologist Pyotr Shirshov, geophysicist Yevgeny Fyodorov, radioman Ernst Krenkel and their leader Ivan Papanin.

Since 1954 Soviet NP stations worked continuously, with one to three such stations operating simultaneously each year. The total distance drifted between 1937 and 1973 was over 80,000 kilometres. North Pole-22 is particularly notable for its record drift, lasting nine years. On June 28, 1972 the ice floe with North Pole-19 passed over the North Pole for the first time ever.

During such long-term observations by NP stations, a lot of important discoveries in physical geography were made, valuable conclusions on regularities and the connection between processes in the polar region of the Earth's hydrosphere and atmosphere were obtained. Some of the most important discoveries were finding the deep-water Lomonosov Ridge, which crosses the Arctic Ocean, other large features of the ocean bottom’s relief, the discovery of two systems of the drift (circular and “wash-out”), the fact of cyclones' active penetration into the Central Arctic.

The last Soviet NP station, North Pole-31, was closed in July 1991.

In the post-Soviet era, Russian exploration of the Arctic by drifting ice stations was suspended for twelve years. The year 2003 was notable for Russia's return into the Arctic. As of 2006, three NP stations had carried out scientific measurements and research since then: NP-32 through NP-34. The latter was closed on May 25, 2006.

NP-35 started operations on September 21, 2007 at the point 81°26·N 103°30·E, when flags of Russia and Saint Petersburg were raised there. 22 scientists, led by A. A.Visnevsky were working on the ice floe. Establishment of the station was the third stage of the Arktika 2007 expedition. An appropriate ice floe was searched for from Akademik Fedorov research vessel, accompanied by nuclear icebreaker Russia, using MI-8 helicopters, for a week, until an ice floe with an area of 16 square kilometres was found. The ice has since shrunk significantly, however, and the station was abandoned ahead of schedule.

The AARI was founded on March 3, 1920 as the Northern Research and Trade Expedition under the Scientific and Technical Department of the All-Union Council of State Economy. In 1925, the expedition was reorganized into the Institute of Northern Studies and five years later - into the All-Union Arctic Institute. In 1932, the institute was integrated into the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route. In 1948, they established the Arctic Geology Research Institute on the basis of the geology department of the All-Union Arctic Institute, which would subordinate to the Ministry of Geology of the USSR. In 1958, the All-Union Arctic Institute was renamed Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. In 1963, the AARI was incorporated into the Chief Administration of the Hydrometeorological Service under the Council of Ministers of the USSR (now Federal Service of Russia for Hydrometeorology and Monitoring of the Environment).

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