Expedition Diaries 2016

June 15. Day 9

June 15. Day 9

Yesterday evening we all got really excited: we shall pass by the Belush’ya Bay at 1-2 am and we will have mobile connection there. I had been eager to fall asleep by midnight, but I stayed awake and was watching all my three cell phones. By 1 am a lot of people were wide awake on the vessel: some were pretending that they wanted to take a short stroll before going to bed, some were freezing on the upper deck. But the connection did not appear as we were more than 12 miles away from the shore.

Ice jams, floods and people on the roofs

I am writing the diary on the upper deck where the laboratories are situated: the higher you get, the stronger the tossing is, and it helps to organize your thoughts sometimes, in case it is not very strong. The first mate Sergey Khokhlov looked very stern while reading the previous day diary, pointed out one mistake and asked whether I had written about him telling somebody off.

Well, of course, I could have quoted him, but he uses very specific marine terminology.

Actually, we always have to deal with specific terminology here as there are representatives of a dozen different sciences on board. Alexey Sazonov, a PhD student from Moscow State University, the department of land hydrology, told us today about Earth’s remote sensing. Lectures continue on board the RV “Professor Molchanov”.

— What do you think, in which frequency range it is easier to distinguish wet snow from dry snow? – asked he and glared at the audience through his glasses. The audience was quiet. Alexey had pity and showed the picture as the only supposition given by the bravest listener was wrong. It is easier to distinguish these two types of snow at the frequency of 30-40 GHz. If the frequency is smaller, the graph turns into a total mess.

— I like the expedition very much, if it is possible, I’d like to take part in it again. The atmosphere and the people here are great. And of course, the Arctic… - said Alexey dreamily. He was on the bird watch from 2 till 6 am, he saw mostly guillemots. As for me, I do not see many guillemots, only kittiwakes.

Remote sensing in the broad sense is any research method without direct contact with the object of research. Photography can also be treated as remote sensing, and remote sensing appeared as soon as photography was invented. A well known heliography by Niepce “A view from the window” created in 1826 can also be treated as remote sensing.

Alexey showed us a picture of Boston taken from a balloon in 1860. Probably it is a daguerreotype. In the beginning of the XX century pigeons were used for taking pictures at a height. The birds must have been very strong to carry a camera.

Today Earth’s remote sensing in hydrometeorology means ordinary space sounding. The satellites have started to be launched for this purpose since 1959. The first attempts were not really successful as the satellites were rotating, vibrating and had difficulties transmitting data. Further attempts were more successful, the USA were the pioneers in this sphere. Our country never had many meteorological satellites, even today Russia mostly acquires data from American and European satellites. There are only 3 Russian and 16 foreign satellites. However, it is planned to launch another 4 satellites by 2020.

Alexey also told about the space study of snow cover. Snow is studied in the visible range, but in this case it can be easily mixed up with light sand or clouds. For this reason microwave shooting is used. Our country faces huge hardships due to the fact that the majority of rivers flow from the South to the North. When headwaters open up, the ice is not melting in the estuary. It causes ice jams, floods, people on the house roofs complaining that the spring again was so unexpected this year. We recalled Velikiy Ustyug which is flooded every third year: everybody knows about it, but hopes that it won’t happen this spring.

Ice bombing is not a very effective method. The pieces of ice are small, but they are still there. At least there are few chances that they would damage a bridge. There are other means of dealing with ice, but the most effective is to emigrate from the flooded zone, though it is clear that the whole city of Velikiy Ustyug, or any other city located on the river bank, would not move.

Alexey in his work specializes in floods in urban settings. This topic is very popular. In the expedition he works together with his colleagues form the MSU department of oceanography. This time there are three of them, but there is always a group of oceanologists taking part in the AFU-expedition. They are involved in description of water objects, take samples for chemical tests, conduct intra-day observations, for example, every 15 minutes to measure outflow, electrical conductivity and other characteristics of brooks and rivers flowing into the sea. At the stations which we have visited these characteristics change greatly even within 15 minutes: first of all, the rivers and brooks are filled with snow which is melting by fits and starts during the day, secondly, tides and low-tides also influence the measured characteristics.

How to deal with harbor oscillation

Natalya Ryazanova continued the topic of dangerous water in its different conditions. She spoke about tsunami, harbor oscillation, ice pressure and vessel icing. It is very hard to predict these phenomena, a person can do nothing to prevent a tsunami or harbor oscillation. Harbor oscillation in a port is a total disaster, even when there are no waves, anchored vessels may start moving at a high amplitude which in the result may cause huge damage. Harbor oscillation is caused by the resonance of the port waves, vessel vibrations and the incoming waves. Intuition often helps sailors to avoid it as it suggests keeping a vessel at anchorage.

Vessel icing is also dangerous, especially if it happens fast. A vessel is covered with ice right in front of your eyes, gets heavier and can sink due to the change of mass. To deal with vessel icing it is necessary to get the vessel back to the port as soon as possible, or at least anywhere where the weather conditions are different, breaking the ice cover with improvised means on the way.

The tossing is not very strong, that’s why group work is held in the laboratories. Liudmila Beldiman is sorting the plants which the module managed to collect at Vaygach. She says that green plants are just starting to appear. This is a bad time for a researcher, but a good time for geese. They are migrating to the North following the “green wave”. Fresh green plants are very rich in nutrients, and geese eat them.

— There are almost no composite flowers yet, but there are crucials, but nobody eats them, — says Liudmila, putting them aside.

Liudmila will stay at the Zhelaniya Cape in the North of the Novaya Zemlya till September.

I was written from Arkhangelsk that the lifeboat which we found in the North of Vaygach probably comes from a floating platform, but this is only a supposition.

Litter beyond the law

Mineral resources extraction, weather observations, military presence and any other activities leave its traces in the Arctic. The most obvious ones are empty oil barrels. They can be spotted even in some unpredictable areas. Silvia Kostovska told us today in her lecture that it is necessary to remove waste from the Arctic and utilize it, though it is very hard.

There is a term “accumulated ecological damage” and it appears due to long-term enterprise activity in the past and results into dangerous concentrations of pollutants in the soil, water, air, the presence of abandoned hazardous material repositories. Of course, there are some steps taken these days: for example, radioisotope generators are taken away, there is Arctic clearance program which functions at the Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land. But the problem is there is no legal framework, so it is impossible to bind the contaminator, for example, the Ministry of Defense, to clear the territory. So it is only a sort of moral, not legal obligation.

Arctic conditions are not taken into account. Current environmental legislation as well as the means of accumulated ecological damage evaluation and elimination and international legal actions lack special provisions concerning the peculiarities of ecological damage reparations in the Arctic.

Arctic conditions influenced international relations in the area in the past. Konstantin Zaikov spoke today about international relations in the Arctic starting from the XII century.  A lot of lectures here are held in English, and it is very interesting to follow the discussion of the Russian participants who also have to speak English but sometimes, when the discussion is too hot and passionate, they switch into Russian…

The economical principles are the same even though the times are changing. We are now tracking oil price, but in the XVI-XIX centuries people tracked salmon price. Nobody wants to sell it cheap, so in case the price is low, nobody goes fishing, the industry and everybody connected with it faces a crises.

Along the Milky Way

Kittiwakes have meetings on the vessel stern, there are already a couple of dozens of them sitting with their eyes closed as if that is as it should be. Sometimes some of them fly up, make a circle and get back to its friends. One kittiwake was waving its wings and shaking its legs while flying.  

Irina Pokrovskaya says that probably there is a skua nearby and it scares kittiwakes.

I was planning to finish the diary for today and either to fall asleep or to relax with a book, but suddenly I was called to the bridge by the first mate Khokhlov.

— You wanted an excursion, so feel free to ask questions, - kindly said Sergey Viktorovich.

— And where are we now? — It was about 5 pm.

— This is the Sukhoy Nos Cape, we are riding along the Northern Island and have passed Matochkin Shar Strait. It’s a pity we can ride through it, it is beautiful there, much better than in the Suez or Panama Canal.

The shore is clearly seen. Of course, there is no fog today. Our vessel is about 15 miles or about 26 km away from the shore.

— Take the pictures, or soon we won’t see the shore.

— Why can’t we come closer?

— We need a special license to come closer than 12 miles because of the conventional waters. We have such a license for the Russkaya Gavan’, we will reach it tomorrow at 4-5 pm.

Sergey Khokhlov has been taking part in the AFU-expeditions since 2013. He says that he likes them, that the organization is fine. I find a spot on the map the depth of which is 4 m (the draught of “Professor Molchanov” is 5 m) and with an inscription “not explored”.

— This is a common thing, the depth in that region was measured in the same old way every 100 m, that’s why there are many areas which are not explored.

— By “in the same old way” you mean throwing a string with weight, right?

— Echo-sounders have been invented not so long ago.

To tell the truth, I think that the atomic icebreaker “50 years of Victory” is small for the Arctic, and “Professor Molchanov” is much smaller… 

— Pomors used to come here by koches and boats, their voyages to the Arctic lasted 90 or even 100 days, their vessels could outride any storm. Of course, sometimes the waves overtopped the vessels, but they managed to outstay.

— And what do you like best at the Novaya Zemlya?

The first mate thought a little.

— The Oranskie Islands. Gulfstream ends there and cold waters start. That’s why there is a lot of plankton and other creatures like walruses or birds. Once we were riding there on Fregat, the weather was perfect, it was possible to see the rocks underwater at the depth of about 20 meters. And there were jelly-fish, not altogether, but separately, and still there were a lot of them. The sun was shining and the jelly-fish were shining with red and blue colours. As if we were riding along the Milky Way…Photo

June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9
June 15. Day 9

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Updated 20.06.2016