Expedition Diaries 2015

Day 11

Life inside the stone

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The Novaya Zemlya archipelago really resembles New Zealand as it also consists of two large islands – the Southern and the Northern, which are separated by the Matochkin Shar Strait. The RV “Professor Molchanov” arrived there at 10.00 am.

During the landing, the expedition members were attacked by birds. Kittiwake seagulls fly to the motorboat hoping to get some fish, sometimes they get too naughty and attack people. It is convenient to repel an attack with a simple stick.

The sticks were a useful weapon at the Zhelaniya Cape, as the guards who were the first to land to check if there was polar bear hazard there told that there are tarrock nests in the rocks nearby. These tarrocks were nesting their chicks, so they may attack people. And so they did, though they left the expedition members alone pretty soon.

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There is a lighthouse on the Cape. It was built in the beginning of the 1930-s. The task of the historical and cultural department was to describe the historical object in every detail, to take pictures of it from different angles and to make a video of it. The same relates to other objects, for example, the artillery positions dating back to 1942-1945 as there also was the war in the Arctic, German submarines came to the bay and Russian soldiers were defending the bay. Further to the edge of the Zhelaniya Cape there is a large plain wooden cross without any sign plates on it. It is dedicated to the Taimyr geographical expedition of 1032. There is also a memorial (a greenish glass triangles with inscriptions in English and Dutch – Nova Zembla). This memorial commemorates Villem Barents and his expedition who had to spend the winter in 1596 and 1597 in the North of the Novaya Zemlya. It is also stated that De Taverne Bergen is the sponsor of this project, though it is quite surprising. There is one more sign plate nearby, it says that that sign is a present of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Russian Federation and that the weather is the director defining the course of events in the Arctic.

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The last historical and cultural objects which were described are the bunkers constructed of stone and the grave of Pinchukova, the hydrologist who died in labour during the winter of 1941-42. The small tombstone is hidden between the rocks, probably to protect it from wind.

The winds here, in the Arctic deserts, are extremely strong, so it is very hard for soils to “survive” on the surface, that is why they are also hiding: either under the stones (hypolites) or even inside the stones (endolites). Many minerals are transparent and the sunshine comes through it. This activates photosynthesis in the microorganisms. They start to “eat” mineral surfaces, acidify the surrounding environment and the fine grained soil is gradually formed. It comes to the surface through the cracks in the stones and forms special cover-ups also known as “rocky sun-tan” on the stones. Sergey Goryachkin, the soil scientist, who discovered endolites in the Antarctic desert, understood already on the vessel that this phenomenon is present on the Novaya Zemlya as well judging only by this “sun-tan”. His intuition did not let him down.

The study of endolites is crucial for the Mars exploration. Water has been discovered there, and if there is life, it is probably necessary to look for it not on the surface, but inside the stones like in the Arctic and in the Antarctic. The colour of the Mars surface is red, and there is a chance that this colour is a sign of the rocky sun-tan, which might mean that there are endolites even in such severe conditions. And endolites mean life!

Shift to the North

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The expedition was lucky on July 11. Apart from the soil scientists, Sofia Rozenfeldt has made some interesting discoveries. They are mostly connected with the bird habitat. The expedition didn’t see several species which are generally found here. For example, the long-tailed ducks which are said to be the most wide-spread species of the polar ducks were not seen this time either at the Zhelaniya Cape, or close to the Oranskie Islands. However, while taking pictures of little auks, Sofia Rosenfeldt managed to notice a small flock of mergansers on one of the pictures. It was believed before that their habitat upper limit was 500 km to the South and mergansers were not found in the Novaya Zemlya before, they usually live in taiga. The book says they must not be here, but you look in the sky and see the birds. Yet it is an exaggeration to speak about the global warming impact. The ornithological research was held here long ago and there is no integrated data of this region.

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The situation with king eider is the same. It is a fact, that common eider settles here. But the expedition found both species with nests and chicks at the Zhelaniya Cape, the Oranskie Islands and earlier at Dolgiy and Matveev Islands, which means that it is their permanent habitat.

During the first group landing at the Zhelaniya Cape, a swan was swimming around. He was alone, such behavior is not typical. Taking into account the fact that these birds live around the Southern Island of the Novaya Zemlya, the presence of the bird in the North is probably accidental.

After the expedition Sofia Rozenfeldt plans to publish an article in the scientific magazine “Kazarka”. It exists since 1995 and is issued twice a year both in Russian and in English. The reviewing there is even stricter than in famous “Science” and “Nature”. This means that the discoveries made today can be really valuable for ornithology.

An alternative to Post Scriptum

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There are a lot of things on board which are important, except for scientific research. Today two expedition participants, the translator, Elena Kalinova (NArFU) and the geographer, Margarita Obrashchenko (Tumen State University) celebrated their birthdays. Both of them made several wishes at the Zhelaniya Cape. The number of wishes which you can make there is unlimited and it is guaranteed that they will come true. 


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Updated 03.07.2015