All news

Arctic Floating University in 2021 to be onboard Mikhail Somov vessel

In 2021, the expedition will be fully Russian; in the past, it was an international project, but in the pandemic foreign experts will not take part in the studies

ARKHANGELSK, March 15. /TASS/. The expedition of the Arctic Floating University (AFU) in 2021 will be onboard the Mikhail Somov vessel for the first time. The expedition’s leader, Director of the Arctic Center for Strategic Studies at the Northern Arctic Federal University (NAFU) Alexander Saburov, told TASS onboard that vessel the expedition would begin much earlier than usually.

"This year, we plan a different format: the expedition will be onboard another vessel - the Mikhail Somov," he said. "Due to the high ice class, we will be able to get to Franz Josef Land, which was impossible onboard the Professor Molchanov. It will be the earliest start of the AFU expedition ever."

The Arctic Floating University is a joint project of NAFU and SevHydroMet. Since 2012, the expeditions used the Professor Molchanov vessel, which is much smaller and of a lower ice class than the Mikhail Somov. In 2020, due to the pandemic, the expedition was cancelled and lectures were available only online. In 2021, the expedition is scheduled for June 1-20. The researchers will visit Cape Zhelaniya at the northern end of the Severny Island, the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago, and after that they will head for Franz Josef Land.

The route on Franz Josef Land will depend on the ice situation. The expedition plans to visit the Hooker Island - the base of the Russian Arctic National Park, and the Heiss Island - the country’s northernmost weather station. "I hope, we shall have a couple more stops on other islands on Franz Josef Land," the expedition leader continued. "We shall collect samples and analyze what we see." Current plans include the Northbrook Island, and the Graham Bell - the archipelago’s easternmost island. However, even in summer ice situations near the Graham Bell are usually very complicated.

Early Arctic spring

Early June on Franz Josef Land is just the beginning of spring, and the sea most probably will be packed with ice. "We have studied ice maps of previous years, so most probably there would be just spots of thawing ice," he said. "On the other hand, for those who study marine mammals, it is a unique opportunity, as the open ice offers a giant diversity of marine mammals. At that time, expeditions to Franz Josef Land are rare, and thus it is twice more interesting, since experts will have a realistic opportunity to collect data in the natural environment." Since the sea will be covered with ice, the expedition members will be getting to the islands not by boats, like they did in the past, but they will be taken ashore by a helicopter.

The experts will be able to see possible proofs of the climate changes on the polar islands at the time when the vegetation only appears from under the snow and when birds return to the archipelago.

Russian expedition

In 2021, the expedition will be fully Russian. In the past, it was an international project, but in the pandemic foreign experts will not take part in the studies. "We have seen high interest: from the UK, from Iceland, China, and even from Singapore," the expedition leader told TASS. "Unfortunately, we had to cancel international participation due to the high risks and since by April we must have a more or less clear list of participants."

The Arctic Floating University has announced a competition among NAFU students, post-graduates and teachers, among students and specialists from other Russian universities. Besides, the Arkhangelsk Region finances two participants - those could be students and post-graduates from the region’s other universities and scientific organizations.

Applying students should be involved in scientific studies related to the Arctic, and post-graduates should have scientific publications. Teachers must be involved in the Arctic studies and during the expedition they will present lectures on their subjects. "The Floating University is a platform to develop cooperation between universities," he said. "And for us it is most important to attract high-quality leading researchers from different spheres, who could benefit from each other, who could be involved in joint projects, who could teach students, and read high-level lectures."

For the upcoming season, the organizers have dropped the requirement of fluent English, like it was in the past, when English was the working language. In 2021, all lectures will be in Russian. The Floating University will begin lectures before the expedition leaves for the sea. They will be organized online. The expedition will feature 55 participants.

The scientific program is not finalized. "No doubt, we will have hydro-meteorology and ocean studies, ecology and biodiversity, human adaptation to high latitudes, as well as other priorities for the Russian Arctic Center - new materials and technologies," Saburov said. "We continue the approach of multi-disciplines - that is, for us it is important to see the Arctic as a complex subject beyond a certain discipline."

During the voyage, students will practice using scientific equipment. "It is very important they will do it during the voyage, in the field conditions," he said. All students will receive skills and knowledge not only in their subjects, but also in related disciplines. Topics of the lectures will vary from the history of high-latitudes’ discoveries and the Arctic law to the climate changes in the Arctic.