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Deserted islands of the Arctic scrappers

About 40 expeditions were conducted on Yamal in 2017

MOSCOW, February 15. /TASS/. Andrei Baryshnikov, who is 28, has made up a fleet of off-road vehicles in Salekhard. He is the head of the Russian Center for the Arctic’s Development. On the way home, driving a 15-tonne truck, the Arctic scrapper told TASS about living on an island with polar bears, about the mysterious gas craters and about a dream to have a Russian sauna in the far-away North Pole.

22 kilometers within three days

The biggest problem in the Extreme North is not that much the frost, but the lack of roads, Andrei said. "Once, it took me three days to make 22 kilometers. We got stuck in a dreadful swamp, burned 600 liters of gas."

His fleet has eight off-road vehicles of different types. From home he drives a 15-tonne Ural-Polyarnik truck to get to the snow-swamp vehicle, formerly owned by the Japanese military.

"The biggest one is the Ural (truck), we use it, for example, to deliver scientific stations - this is Yamal’s know-how, we make them here and then drop into the tundra. The vehicles can get anywhere. We are a non-profit organization, all the vehicles are gifts or charity," he said.

The best time to travel across Yamal is winter, when everything gets solid in the frosts. Then, what we fear to see here is the northern lights. "If we see then, then, no doubt, expect severe frosts, this forecast is absolutely reliable. However, for some reason, in minus-50 frosts, all repairing goes much quicker. Hands are freezing, you know. Once, the front wheel went off the Ural, you would not believe how quickly we fixed it," he laughed.

In warm seasons, crossing swamps is a challenge, and it is dangerous to travel the tundra on a sole car. "Once, I had a story, when the front axle, and the back axle, were struck. Using another Ural, I rush to a dry place, unwind the winch - 60 meters long, plus two more cords, and then we pull each other," he said.

A month with polar bears

Andrei Baryshnikov was born in Germany, but at since the age of four lives on Yamal, where he learned surviving in the tundra. Once, he had to stay all by himself for one month on the Bely Island in the Kara Sea, where only polar bears live.

"I was putting a scientific station there and installed the equipment. It was my longest expedition, there I came across polar bears all the time. The biggest danger is when you seem to get used and fear is fading away, but I was lucky - no attacks," he told TASS.

It was during an ecology project on that island that he made up his mind to work as an expedition organizer. "In 2012, I was among volunteers on the Bely Island. We collected tonnes of scrap metal, which remained there from the Soviet times," he said. "As for education, I’ve studied in [Saint] Petersburg, I am a transport economist."

Andrei’s team is 18 people. "The most valuable specialists are drivers-mechanics. And noteworthy, they all are above 40. It’s a big problem to find professionals, as the young fear unpredictable work, and besides, nobody teaches the experience any longer. I am telling my deputy, Sergei Nikolayevich: find a person for your position, you are 53, watch your back - if anything happens with it, who will work?" he said.

Surviving in the tundra

Andrei has to rescue not only the equipment, but scientists. "Once, we evacuated a scientist who had slipped and overturned a pail of hot water. Luckily, my copter was on the way to the Bely Island at the moment, we called the air company and the man was taken to hospital."

Every time, mechanics adjust the equipment to new projects. "During studies of fish reproduction in the Polar Urals’ lakes, we equipped the truck’s back part into a lab. There, the researchers gutted fish, made experiments. We even have mobile saunas, and thus my dream of taking a sauna on the North Pole is quite realistic," he said.

Yamal’s anomalous craters

About 40 expeditions were conducted on Yamal in 2017. Scientists research here the permafrost, consequences from the anthrax outbreak in summer 2016, they watch geese, foxes and arctic foxes. Researchers have come from Barnaul, St. Petersburg, Holland, Kazakhstan and other CIS countries.

A special interest is to the mysterious Yamal craters, which are real dangerous. Three new craters have opened recently. The reason is a gas outbreak from under the ground, and the main objective is to find out where and when it may happen next time. The emerging craters break ice, ground, cause smoke and flash.

"We use pictures from the space to forecast gas outbreaks," Andrei said, adding the region had organized a seismic monitoring network to forecast hazardous scenarios under the ground. One device may analyze seismic processes in the area 200 km around.

"The sensors are installed in Sabetta, at Bovanenkovskoye and Kharasaveyskoye fields, where active industrial development is under way," he continued. "We are negotiating a big company to install another sensor."

All for the science

The Russian Center for the Arctic’s Development supports searches and fundamental scientific works. "Usually, there are no investors. But we are confident - unless you realize the origin any applied research would be useless," he said. "This is what we keep telling the oil and gas companies, too."

The Center sends recommendations to the local government. "For example, we have found lakes, where fish could grow, and eventually the local fish plant rented some of them," he said proudly.

The entire team is "in the field" now. More than 50 expeditions are planned for the current year. The specialists are getting ready for the summer season, for trips to the Bely Island.

"In late February, we shall go by off-road vehicles to finalize the scientific station on Laborovaya," Andrei told TASS. "This year’s plans include an ecology expedition to the uninhibited Vilkitsky Island, a geo-botanical survey of reindeer pastures. And, besides, I can’t wait my son to be grown up enough to go to the tundra with me."

The Russian Center for the Arctic’s Development was organized to coordinate and systematize scientific research in the Arctic and to train high-qualified specialists. The Center is a socially focused organization, which participates in ecology and educational projects. Among its founders are the Yamal government, leading research institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and engineering companies.