Hard to find ice for floating research station

"Rossiya" returned to Murmansk earlier this week with scientists from the drifting research station North Pole-39. Photo from earlier expedition. (Photo: Rosatomflot)

Russia’s new drifting research station North Pole-40 has started working on an ice floe in the Arctic. Finding a suitable ice floe was harder this year than ever before, with ice levels reaching record lows.


The nuclear-powered icebreaker “Rossiya” returned to Murmansk on Tuesday after completing its “Arktika-2012” mission. The mission included replacing the previous research station North Pole-39 with this year’s North Pole-40 station. “Rossiya” brought back to the homeland scientists who have spent nearly a year on an ice floe close to the North Pole.

Finding a suitable ice floe for the scientists and all the equipment needed for a self-reliant research station was very hard this year, Oleg Shchapin, Captain of the “Rossiya” says to Arctic-TV. The icebreaker 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.

The level of ice in the Arctic is unprecedentedly low. The amount of sea ice in the summer season has declined nearly 50 percent since satellite tracking began in the late 1970s.

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.

During the expedition the researchers aboard “Rossiya” even discovered a new island in the archipelago of Franz Josef Land. Until now a glacier has hidden the true formation of an island. There are now open waters between what was believed to be two parts of the same island.  

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.