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Trans Arctic expedition’s second stage starts from Arkhangelsk

Understanding processes in the Barents Sea is important for more accurate weather forecasts, according to the expedition’s head

ARKHANGELSK, May 16. /TASS/. The Mikhail Somov research vessel departed from Arkhangelsk to participate in the Trans Arctic 2019 polar expedition’s second stage. On board the ship 55 scientists will watch the atmosphere and water processes in the Barents Sea and will study how high latitudes influence the human health. The expedition will continue to June 15.

"The expedition will go to the Barents Sea, the voyage will continue from May 15 to June 15," the expedition’s head Olga Balakina told TASS. "The team unites 62 people: 55 researchers from institutes in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, and seven helicopter crew members, as we shall make observations from the air."

Head of the Russian meteorology service, RosHydroMet, Maxim Yakovenko, who saw off the expedition, stressed it would be for the first time for many years that a scientific vessels would cover the entire Northern Sea Route.

"Since the late 1980s, we have not had big complex expeditions to cover the entire Northern Sea Route," he said. "The idea was to break the route into a few stages, so that to cover the route from Vladivostok to Murmansk and back, to recover the missed knowledge."

The Trans Arctic 2019 scientific polar expedition consists of four stages. It began in March with an expedition on board the Akademik Treshnikov and will be over in autumn, 2019. Scientists will conduct complex studies of the Russian Arctic’s seas.

Reliable weather forecasts

Understanding processes in the Barents Sea is important for more accurate weather forecasts, the expedition’s head told TASS.

"The Barents Sea borders the Arctic Ocean as well as the Atlantic seas," she said. "It is filled by a combination of streams: both cold streams would come, and the warm North Atlantic streams would come there, besides, the sea is quite wide; many atmosphere processes emerge from the Barents Sea’s area."

The main job during the voyage is to make complex studies at certain points in the sea.

"We shall take water tests at certain points, which have fixed coordinates," she continued. "Back in the Soviet times, those tests were taken annually and even two times within every navigation."

"The Trans Arctic program is organized so that we could resume the studies, which in the Soviet times were conducted every year or even a few times a year," she added.

The more data scientists collect from different points, the more precise forecasts they could make, she stressed.

"We plan to launch probes off the Mikhail Somov, twice a day we shall probe the atmosphere," she said. "Those will be probes of the troposphere and lower stratosphere at the heights to 26km."

The Barents Sea’s inhabitants

The Mikhail Somov will deliver cargo to the polar station on the Cape Svyatoy Nos (between the Barents Sea and the White Sea), it may come to the Northern part of the Kolguev Island and may call on the Malyye Karmakuly meteorology station on the Yuzhny Island, the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago. The expedition plans to reach the Hayes Island on Franz Josef Land, however, only if the ice situation allows, the expedition head said.

During the voyage, the scientists will study Arctic animals both on the ice - polar bears, and in the sea - seals and cetaceans.

"One of the tasks is to watch them and count them, to observe their behavior, to understand how they use the ice," Dmitry Glazov of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution Studies told TASS.

"The seasons are changing now, and we expect that due to the climate warming we shall meet the species which are typical not only for the Arctic, but those, who come there from warm Atlantic waters," he said. "I mean dolphins or large whales. Maybe [we'll see] a blue whale"

The researchers hope to watch narwhals, which are on the Russian Red Book.

"It is interesting to study the high-latitude Arctic, it attracts attention from other countries, including those outside the Arctic region, from the point of view of possible fishing there," the expert said. "Narwhal is a typical representative of the high-latitude Arctic. It lives mostly by Canada and Greenland, we have only an edge of their areal, thus the animals are only few, they are understudied, as they come rarely to the high-latitude Arctic."

The human health

Doctors of the Northern State Medical University (Arkhangelsk) will study how the human health changes in the high latitudes.

"The crew and the local members of the expedition have been tested, and doctors will watch how their blood test results would change there, in the high-latitude Arctic," the expedition’s leader said. "The final tests will be taken as the expedition returns home."

Ecologists want to make clear with what fish and in what quantities microplastics may get into humans. "We shall test microplankton to see what fish may catch microplastics and how much microplastics people may get eating that fish," ecologist Pyotr Tersky said.

The expedition’s leader added the scientists would also take tests of the sea water and of marine soil. "We shall take tests to see oil products, organochlorine pesticides, synthetic surfactants; radio-ecological tests will reveal cesium, uranium, we will take samples of marine soil, including in order to see heavy metals in it," she said.

Earlier, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered to allocate in 2019 almost 870 million rubles ($13.4 million) for scientific studies and monitoring of the Arctic environment during the Trans Arctic 2019 expedition.