Expedition Diaries 2015

Day 9

Day 9

Change of plans

The expedition plans usually change due to weather conditions. This time it was not an exception. A landing to the meteorological station named after E. Fedorov in the Northern part of Vaygach Island had been planned in the morning on July 9. However it was cancelled due to bad weather conditions, or, to put it simpler, due to thick fog. The previous evening the landing at Dyakonov Cape was also cancelled due to the fact that the coast is steep and rocky there, so it would be impossible for the expedition members to get anywhere. Besides the crew got very tired during the previous landings at the Belyi Nos Cape and Varnek settlement. So the Nenets sacred places remained unexplored this time.

Besides, the RV “Professor Molchanov” had to change the route: it was decided that the expedition would head for the Novaya Zemlya not in the Barents Sea as it had been planned before, but in the Kara Sea to save time as the expedition was delayed due to the storm. It was sad news for Vidas Kryauchunas Vinanto and Vitaly Spitsin as the changes of the route meant that they would arrive at the Novaya Zemlya not on July 9 as it had been planned before, but probably on July 16. The expedition now was heading for the Zhelaniya Cape in the Novaya Zemlya.

The expedition learnt once again that plans always fail in the Arctic, so they switched to analyzing the data acquired during the previous landings.

Stations in the sea


First of all, the evaluation observation took place in the Belyi Nos meteostation. Olga Balakins says: “We teach them to conduct sea and onland measurements. The thing is the staff is young and not really experienced, so they need a lot of assistance. I taught one of the employees yesterday to conduct level measurements. Though the wind disturbed us really much, I believe that it was not in vain”.

On Vaygach Island the oceanologists conducted polygon hydrological survey. Again they worked at the stations, as they had in the White Sea. However this time they worked with a miniprobe which is suitable for the depth of 150 m in comparison with the bathometer rosette which can operate at the depths of up to 7 km. The water salinity, temperature and pressure measurements were conducted at 33 stations. The same measurements were taken in the bay near Varnek last year during the AFU-expedition, so now it is only necessary to compare the results.

The biological department, which exists since 2012 in the framework of the AFU together with the hydrometeorological department, worked according to this scheme as well. They continued the Arctic vegetation cataloguing for their further classification. Both at the Belyi Nos and on Varnek the most wide-spread vegetation community is mountain avens tundra, as mountain avens is the most wide-spread species there. This plant has a hard creeping stem and thick leaves resembling the oak ones. Elena Churakova, the head of the biological module, associate professor of the Botanics and General Ecology and Nature Management Department in NArFU, says that its blossoming period is already over that is why we cannot find white flowers of mountain avens, however there are a lot of subspecies in this community and their blossoming period is not over yet.

The comparison of phenophases of different plants is one of the module tasks. It is necessary to do it annually in order to identify sustainable trends, not just annual fluctuations. It would be perfect if there was an opportunity to take measurement in the same place at the same time. For instance, last year the landing at the Belyi Nos took place in August, and the year before last in July. It is necessary to compare the newly acquired data with the year before last data to draw the conclusions, for instance, on the global warming influence. It is clear already that the phenophases have shifted forward, but it is too early to say that it is the influence of temperature rise.

A proper task for AFU


The soil chemistry department is usually the first to land simply because they have to dig a lot. On the average, they make five sections during just one landing. This time they managed to find something really special.

The Yugorskiy Penninsula as well as Vaygach Island is the geological continuation of the Ural Mountains. This is the link between the Ural Mountains and the Novaya Zemlya. Though their height is extremely different (Vaugach Island is only 157 m higher than the sea level), the geological structure remains the same. It is mainly calcareous cleaving stones, also known as carbonate rock, which used to be the sea bottom long ago. They are really widespread in the world, but the acid tundra soil is definitely not a typical place for them. This influences greatly different chemical substances migrations. The module task is to identify what changes take place in the migration processes.

So the soil chemistry module managed to find such soils on Vaygach which are not supposed to be present here. They are called shallow-gley soils and they develop due to overmoisturing on the one hand and the lack of oxygen on the other. This type of soil is typical for the Southern tundra. But it turned out that it is possible to find them in the North as well. The discovery itself is very motivating: the module still has to describe the soils and to identify the reasons why they developed here. The description of carbonate rock was last conducted here about 50 years ago. It is necessary to improve it, especially taking the scientific progress into account. This means the reconsideration of soil distribution in the Arctic and this seems to be a proper task for the “Arctic Floating University” expedition.

Family and school


July 8 was a really good day for the historical and cultural module as it was not involved in the field work since the landing in the Solovki, but this time they managed to interview not only the meteostation staff, but also the population in Varnek settlement on Vaygach Island.

Of course, these Nenets people are assimilated, very often they cannot speak their native language and do not belong to any particular religion. However, it is the only settlement on the island which area is 3,400 km2, so the community is closed and its residents identify themselves as the Nenets people. Even more surprising is the fact that they are generally satisfied with their lives.

Evgeniy Shepelev, the editor of electronic scientific magazine “Arctic and the North”, who works in the Arctic Center of Strategic Research in NArFU, says: “If we compare Varnek with Solovki, Solovki are much more civilized, and people there are less satisfied with their lives. The Nenets people, on the other hand, see only one drawback in their lives: it is the absence of school in their settlement as they have to part with their children for a long time. In autumn the helicopter takes them to the boarding school in Karatayka which is located on the mainland, about 120 km away from the settlement. They come back for a short period of time in winter, then leave again and get back only in May for their summer vacation. It is very hard for both parents and children. As for the rest, the Nenets people are proud of their settlement and add that their lives are much better and easier than in other Nenets settlements. The problem of alcohol abuse is not that urgent in Varnek as the settlement head has the situation under his control.

However, there is another social problem which is really urgent – unemployment. The settlement head Vladimir Bobrikov is very proud that he has managed to reduce the amount of the unemployed from 14 to 11 (the total settlement population is less than 100 people, that is why this level of unemployment can be treated as high). This also leads to population migration: when the young leave the settlement to get education in the cities, they rarely come back.

However, there are some exceptions. The settlement head himself is not a local resident. He was born in Shoyna, the town not far from the Kanin Nos Cape. Then he moved to Arkhangelsk, and once came to Varnek and occasionally settled there. He got married and now he has a four-year old daughter. So he has some time to figure out how to solve the problem with school in Varnek before it is time for his own daughter to leave the settlement. 

Day 9

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Updated 03.07.2015