Expedition Diaries 2016

June 10. Day 4

June 10. Day 4

It’s warmer when you have hair

It is possible to land if the wave height is half a meter, but the waves were two meters high and there was fog on the Island, so the landing was cancelled and the vessel headed for the Bely Nos Cape.

In the morning the tossing got stronger, the things were moving in the lockers and cabinets, and after breakfast I fell asleep again. The previous evening the expedition watched a film which, as one of the participants said, was good, but very sad. It is called “Vaygach” and it is an old documentary about the island, its inhabitants, their life and environmental protection in 1987-88. I do not want to think so, but it seems that little has changed since then. Though the nature in the film is very beautiful: there are birds, rocks and polar bears. There are also a lot of shaggy and fluffy dogs.

It is natural that if you are fluffy, your life in the Arctic is better. Entomologist Andrey Przhiboro held a lecture about insect adaptation to high latitudes. These are, of course, not obligatory rules, but the tendencies which are typical also for mountain areas. To put it simple, a typical Arctic insect is black, has hairs and short wings and doesn’t swarm. Though it is not a scientific explanation. They are really darker, mostly brevipennate, they are villous (the larger the surface is, the faster it gets warm). They also swarm less as insects in high latitudes do not have much energy. We need to inform Arkhangelsk mosquitoes that they are Arctic insects and they should save energy.

The air is getting colder, the sun is getting less warm. However the ice-cream, which the expedition participants got during the ceremony, was greeted with enthusiasm.

In this expedition the decks and the laboratories are quiet. In one of the laboratories there is a scheme of sample collection from different soil horizons. In the end there is a note: when biologists collect samples, we pick only the bottom… layer of gold and give it to the crew. As Yulia Andreeva said, that scheme had been hanging there since 2013. The crew feels optimistic about the future.

I want to see a whale jumping out of the water

- July 19, 2013. Why do I remember it so well? My friend had a birthday and she was making a wish. We were at Franz Josef Land standing on the vessel beam and we saw three whales: blows, tails and backs. We told her that it was her birthday present from “Molchanov”.

Yulia smiles. She took part in the AFU-expedition in 2013 for the first time. By that time she had finished the third year of NArFU. She studied to become a chemistry and biology teacher. Yulia, so to say, is “a long-term resident” of Floating University, this is her fourth expedition.

- I really thought that I will work at school, I did not consider any other options. Arctic changed everything.

The first AFU-expedition took place in 2012. During that expedition Anzhelika Dolinina, the director, shot a movie which impressed Yulia very much. Yulia’s friends took part in that expedition, so Yulia “questioned” them on what to do to take part in the expedition. She filled in an application and in April 2013 she and her course mate were told that they had been accepted.

- We started preparing at once, tried to figure out what we might need, what sweets to take with us. We were really scared of sea sickness, but it turned out that we had no time for that. We worked in shifts: you work for 8 hours, then take 8 hours of rest. We took really large amount of samples within a limited period of time. We also had to prepare the samples. When you study at university, you mostly acquire theoretical knowledge. And here you get something more than just practical training: you learn to manage your time and to prepare for work properly. Specialists on board taught us to work with special programs, equipment and to use special research methods. Everything was visual and sensible. After the first expedition I understood what I study for.

Yulia’s graduation thesis was called “The study of soil cover of island and mainland coastline in the Arctic”. She studied the degree of contamination with heavy metals.  Though she says that it is hard to define whether it is contamination or not in this area. There is no background information about each area, so it is hard to define the normal level. It is clear that, for example, Svalbard is definitely contaminated as there are coal mines there.

- It would be interesting to study the substance transition: from soil into plants, from plants into animals, and so on. But it is almost impossible to collect many plant samples, for example, in Ledyanaya Gavan’ Bay, as there are almost no plants there.

Now Yulia is getting her Master’s degree in “Ecological safety in the Arctic” and in the expedition she has picked the module “Cultural landsapes”. She will evaluate the degree of anthropogenic influence on the islands which are familiar to her. But she is sure that “she won’t miss her soil samples”.

Yulia comes from Naryan-Mar. Her grandmother used to be a meteorologist. Yulia’s mother told her to study chemistry. Now she is for some reasons shocked and “regrets” saying that.

- I want to get further to the north, to the floating station, to the North Pole. When I studied at school in the first form, Chilingarov presented me a backpack. I would like to visit Franz Josef Land again, the Flora Cape, Hooker Island. Each island has its own heart and soul.

Legal successors

A joke about penguins in the Arctic up to the XIX century was not actually a joke. Almost all expedition participants attended today the workshop in ornithology, except for those who felt unwell due to sea sickness. Irina Pokrovskaya explained the difference between auks, dovekies and thick-billed guillemots. Auks occupy a similar niche in the Arctic as penguins in the Antarctic. And their name originates from the Arctic bird’s name.  Some time ago there lived an Arctic penguin in high latitudes and in the Barents Sea. It was a large bird, the size of which was comparable to the goose size. Its Latin name was Pinguinus impennis, originating either from Celtic “pen gwin”, or from Latin “pingius” – fat. The last Arctic penguin was killed in 1844. The sailors who saw penguins in the Antarctic thought that they were Arctic penguins. So penguins were “name successors”.

By the evening we are to come to the meteostation at the Bely Nos Cape. It is located on the sea shore between Varnek and Karatayka. In the end of May, according to mass media, there was spotted a polar bear not far from the meteostation. But it went away. It is said that there had been no polar bears at Bely Nos for 10 years. Special armed guards take part in every AFU landing. Every expedition participants was given an instruction upon the actions during landings and upon the actions in case a polar bear is spotted. If a polar bear is seen in the landing area, the landing is cancelled. A polar bear is the largest land predator who is scared of nothing. It can be lying a couple dozen meters away from a landing helicopter and pay no attention to it at all. A man for polar bears is similar to a seal, though it has legs and can walk.

Some facts about a polar bear

  • The body length is up to 3 m, shoulder height is up to 130 cm.
  • A male weighs at average 400-450 kg, females are much smaller (200-300 kg).
  • Polar bears living in the Barents Sea are smaller than those living in the Bering Sea.
  • Polar bears have black skin.

Luminous-signal repellents are sometimes inefficient if you meet a polar bear, and there is no fire in the Arctic. Polar bears are not scared of shooting sounds – the sound of ice breaking is much louder. However polar bears are very cautious, though curious creatures. If there is no special need, it prefers to stay away from unknown objects.

June 10. Day 4
June 10. Day 4
June 10. Day 4

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Updated 20.06.2016