Russia puts Arctic research stations on ice

North Pole-40 can make history as Russia's last research station on a natural ice floe. (Photo: AARI)

Russia will no longer be conducting scientific research from stations on drifting ice floes in the Arctic. There are simply no ice floes left.


“Satellite images show that there is very little multi-year ice left in the Arctic Basin,” Head of the Russian Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Agency Aleksander Frolov says to RIA Novosti. “The last floating stations have been placed far from the Russian sector of the Arctic, almost in the Canadian sector. At our side there is practically no ice.”

The Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute has recommended the Russian Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Agency to stop placing research stations on natural ice floes because of the high risks and lack of ice ice. Instead they suggest building an ice-strengthened floating platform.

Russia has had a hard time finding suitable ice floes for its floating stations the last years. In order to find a floe for the last station in October 2012, the icebreaker transporting the scientists and equipment 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 station had to be evacuated immediately in May 2013, when the ice floe it was located on started to break apart. The rescue operation cost the agency RUB 136 million, Frolov explains.

The personnel from North Pole-40 was transported to the island of Bolshevik on Severnaya Zemlya, where the scientists re-opened an old research station the Soviet Union established there during the Cold War. The scientists have been monitoring climate and environment in the Arctic from this base during the winter, according to Frolov.

Russia has allocated RUB 200,9 million (€4 million) to Arctic research in 2014. Any financial decision on construction of a platform to replace the floating research stations will be taken in August.

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.