Expedition Diaries 2016

June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…

Favourable southernly wind

On June 6 my brother called me and asked: “Ira, how will you sail? We have a gale warning today. The wind is opposing, it will cause huge head waves, you will be unable even to enter the White sea!”

From time to time there was hail in Arkhangelsk, the north-wester was very strong, the water in the Dvina was like lead and looked nasty, and the RV “Professor Molchanov” seemed to be very small. The journalists who took part in the press-conference dedicated to the eighth expedition of the Arctic Floating University felt ill at ease and were constantly looking out of the viewports. The press-conference took place on board the research vessel. Its participants from the organizers side, on the contrary, were very optimistic. Somehow the weather got infected with their optimism as on June 7 the wind started to change its direction and by the departure of “Professor Molchanov” it has become southernly.

- The wave will also be following which is better! – commented those who have taken part in the expeditions before. But the previous day it was very hard to predict such weather.

During the press-conference Elena Kudryashova, the NArFU rector, said that in the morning an agreement upon the creation of National Arctic Scientific and Educational Consortium was signed. It was signed by the representatives of 14 universities and some other scientific organizations and potential employers, such as Northern Administration for Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring and “Russian Arctic” National Park.  

This institution is supposed to establish the connections between those who train the personnel to work in the Arctic and the employers who are in need of employees. What is more, it will help Arctic popularization and everything connected with it.

The Floating University project is a unique project in Russia and, as the Deputy Minister for Education and Science in the Russian Federation Alexander Klimov emphasized, it allows the most talented students take part in the “field” (though, mostly, in the sea and on the islands) scientific research.

The AFU eighth expedition is called “Exploring Novaya Zemlya Mysteries”. There are only two landing points planned beyond the archipelago territory: they are Kolguev Island and Vaygach Island. However the plans in the high latitude territory are mostly created by the weather.

Some words about myself

I am Irina Skalina and I work as a Deputy Director for Ecological Education and Tourism of the “Russian Arctic” National Park. The territory occupied by the park is the northern part of Northern Island of the Novaya Zemlya. The park also manages the state reservation of federal significance “Franz Josef Land” located on the eponymous archipelago. I have visited Franz Josef Land several times. It may seem strange, but it is not much, but easier to get to the most northern part of Russia and Eurasia than to the North of the Novaya Zemlya. Of course, you can read about it in the books, study the photographs and know every inch of the places you dedicate exhibitions to, even tell something about them. But for me it is a real challenge until I have seen the place with my own eyes. And the expedition will help me to get rid of this white spot not in my knowledge, but in the impressions about the territory.

Though it is a controversial issue. Our park cooperates with a famous Arkhangelsk painter Alexey Grigoriev. He manages to convey the true meaning and true nature of the Arctic in his paintings. However, he has never been there. And he says that he is not going to as he doesn’t want to alter the image which he has.

To re-discover the Arctic

“Russian Arctic” National Park Acting Director Alexander Kirilov speaking about the National Park participation in the AFU-project explained: “We acquire the new data about our territory after the expeditions of the Floating University. If we speak about the Novaya Zemlya, the last serious research took place at the archipelago in the 30-40-s of the XX century.  Thanks to AFU-expeditions we can renew the data. The materials obtained during the Floating University expeditions form the basis for the national park scientific research. For example, they were used during the protective zone of the Special Protected Natural Area evaluation”.

This year there are 56 expedition participants, among whom there are 29 students and 21 researcher from 17 educational and scientific and educational institutions. There are 7 foreign participants on board: they come from Brazil, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Canada and Indonesia.

The Arkhangelsk weather was more or less nice during the official farewell ceremony. No flag was taken away by the wind and a snowman seemed there very natural.

The shipboys cried “Good Bye!” very loudly, and even the “Russian Arctic” Natural Park state inspectors who looked very stern smiled and said that they were about to shed tears.

The first training, acquaintance and module distribution.

Sergey Khokhlov, the first mate, looked seriously at the audience.

- I know many of you already… but some of you I don’t know.

Everybody’s heart missed a beat: both of those who very familiar to the first mate, and those who were not. Sergey Khokhlov paused on the word… and started talking about the toilet system on board.

- Do not through anything into the toilets, otherwise they will break down!

Rubbish is a very serious matter in the sea. Nothing must be thrown overboard – at once everyone started joking about “nobody overboard”. The first training was a short one as it was beautiful outside, especially the river banks, and those who have not taken part in the expedition before were advised to take a look.

After dinner which consisted of meat, rice, cucumbers, tomatoes and a berry-drink, there was a traditional for such expeditions acquaintance with other participants. The participants were suggested to find a partner and to make a list of 10 things which were common for both of them.  It was pretty easy: “my partner and me graduated from one university, we now work in the same university, we take part in the same expedition on board the research vessel, we are both from Arkhangelsk and we love poetry”. Then the task became harder as the common things were to be listed in the groups of four and later in the groups of ten. In our group of ten we have mentioned that we love chocolate and travelling, we don’t like tossing, we are interested in the Novaya Zemlya and the Arctic, and then we suddenly realized that the English language which we all were using for communication is not native to any of us as we are from Russia, Norway and Brazil. And it was also common for us.

At the end of the day the students were to choose the educational module. Floating University presupposes the integration of the scientific-research and educational activities. Each research group is accompanied by the students, though the presence of background in this sphere is not an obligatory condition. This year there are 9 educational modules:

  • Biodiversity in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of the European North of Russia
  • Adaptability and possible risks in the context of current climate change in the Arctic
  • Hydrometeorological research in the Arctic and Subarctic
  • Arctic seas and territories ecology
  • Russian Arctic and Subarctic geology
  • Cooperation and safety issues in the Arctic
  • Arctic and Subarctic cultural landscapes
  • Human adaptation to the Arctic conditions
  • +  Medical module. However it has been formed beforehand and includes only the students from Northern State Medical University. 

It’s midnight. The tossing has got stronger. I wonder if there are people who like tossing. I do not mean whether they feel well or not, I am more interested if they enjoy it… Yet no one has admitted that. Although when I was a child I liked when we got caught not in the storm, but in the heave. This was like a seesaw. My vestibular system didn’t mind. 


June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…
June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…
June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…
June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…
June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…
June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…
June 7. Day 1. And some previous days…

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Updated 20.06.2016