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Floating research station in need of evacuation

Some 16 scientists have spent the winter on the floating research station North Pole-40. (Photo: AARI)

The ice floe carrying the floating research station North Pole-40 is breaking up. Scientists and equipment need to be evacuated before long.

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The scientific research station was placed on the ice floe in October 2012 and was planned to stay there until September. Now the floe has already started to break apart and the crew has to be evacuated as soon as possible.

Russia’s Minister of Nature Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy has ordered that a plan for evacuation should be ready within three days, the Ministry’s web site reads.

“A collapse of the station’s ice floe poses a threat to its continued work, the lives of the crew, the environment close to the Canadian Economic Zone and to equipment and supplies”, a note from the minister reads.

Donskoy suggests that the nuclear-powered icebreaker “Yamal” could evacuate the station from the floe and move it to Severnaya Zemlya.

With ice levels in the Arctic reaching record lows, finding a suitable floe for the station proved to be a difficult task last autumn. The icebreaker carrying the station’s crew had to sail all around the North Pole before finding an ice floe solid enough to hold the station. None of the three floes that had been pre-evaluated from land as possible objects were considered safe enough.

Also the previous shift of Russian scientists experienced problems with the ice situation in the Arctic. In late April the members of North Pole-39 had to move the whole research station to another ice floe because the first one was breaking up.

Only three times has a station had to be evacuated before schedule. The last time was in 2010, when the icebreaker “Rossiya” had to go out and rescue the people on the floating station “North Pole-37” already in May.

Russia earlier this year allocated 1,7 billion rubles (app €42 million) to developing a self-propelled, ice- strengthened floating platform to replace the natural ice floes for future research stations.

Russia has had floating research stations in the Arctic since 1937, when the first scientific drifting ice station in the world – “North Pole-1”, was established. From 1954 Soviet “North Pole” stations worked continuously, with one to three such stations operating simultaneously every year. In the post-Soviet era, Russian exploration of the Arctic by drifting ice stations was suspended for twelve years, and was resumed in 2003.