Expedition Diaries 2017

July 13. Day 6

July 13. Day 6

Since the very morning we are travelling in a fog. According to our captain the visibility is approximately half of a mile. It’s about 800 meters, even more, almost a kilometer. The dashboard shows that the speed is usual one, 10-11 K. Though I have a feeling that our vessel is moving very slowly and that the fog is at a stone’s throw and literally envelopes us.

Nematodes – who are these creatures?

Vlada Peneva, professor of zoology at the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research of Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, is going to study nematodes on Novaya Zemlya and FJL. Nematodes are roundworms and, having basic medical education, I associate them with helminths. I remember they have very thick cuticle (the skin). My roommate Nastya Lomakina, being a biologist, thought of potato and carrot nematodes.

Vlada mentioned that nematodes can live everywhere: in Antarctic, in the ocean depths, even in the glaciers. They live inside the ice, feed on algae without any complaining. If the conditions are too harsh for them, they get rid of almost all amount of water (from their organisms) and survive unfavorable conditions. Although the latter process can be used as a way of reproduction. Without water, these tiny creatures are as light as feathers and can be transferred by wind. Polar nematodes can generate special antifreeze which prevents them from quick freezing.

— There was such an experiment: one class of nematodes (the representatives of which can live in Antarctic deserts with the temperatures as low as -20oC) had once been deep-frozen in the refrigerator for 25 years. After 25 years it was put in water and it began moving and reproducing.

To be honest I felt a bit nervous while listening to this. The last film I watched in the cinema was “The Alien: Prophecy”.

Nematodes are of a significant importance for the ecosystems, especially for the Arctic one.

- In usual soils nematodes take the central position in the food chain, but in the arctic ones they are in the head of food chain. Feeding on fungi and bacteria, help soils to assimilate CO2 and take part in the transfer of biogenic elements.

As soon as for gradually recedes it seems that we are going faster. I bet it slowed us down! At 1 pm it was announced that there are seals on the right board. It seems that they were there only at 1 pm and only for several seconds (almost no one saw them). I rushed to both boards of the vessel, but in vain. Being upset, I took photographs of our Swiss participants, who were also trying to see seals. Then I went inside to listen to more information about nematodes.

Vlada thinks that composition of the nematodes’ population will differ within different islands due to various conditions. There will probably be even some discoveries of new genus. There should be a lot of endemic species in the polar archipelagos. Several years ago, within the FJL territory, some samples of nematodes were taken and sent to Bulgaria for further studying. One new genus was described already. A new genus of an animal! Of course, it’s not an elephant or a bear, even not a mouse and a bug, but still a brand-new kind of animal. It’s spectacular! 

Of the Barents Sea

The area of the sea is 1 m. 405 thousand km2, water volume is 282 thousand km3, an average depth is 220 meters.

My favorite beverage on “Professor Molchanov” is instant coffee with condensed milk. With great amount of condensed milk. I would have never drunk such mixture on the mainland, but here my day starts with this awfully sweet coffee with no exception. Maybe sea air has such an influence on me…

What you can do on the territory of the Russian Arctic National Park and what you are not allowed to do there

This year the Arctic Floating University expedition will be conducting scientific works mostly on the territory of the Russian Arctic National Park. Nowadays it is the northernmost and the biggest protected area of Russia. Its area is 8,8 m. hectares, 33% of which is water area.

We had a video lecture about this national park today held by the deputy director of the Russian Arctic National Park for the scientific work Maria Gavrilo. Now she is working on the Northbrook Island (the cape Flora), where there is one of the seasonal bases of the “Russian Arctic” which is called “The valley of winds”. There are other bases of the national park such as “Omega”, a base which works all year round on Aleksandra Land and seasonal ones in the Tikhaya Bay on Hooker Island and on the Cape Zhelaniya (Novaya Zemlya). There are also plans to make other bases in various places, but Arctic exploration is not fast and effortless process.

Moreover, FJL and northern part of Novaya Zemlya are one of the most hard-to-reach territories of the globe. The distance from the north part of Novaya Zemlya to the closest Dikson Island is 450 km, from FJL – 800 km. From Cape Zhelaniya to Arkhangelsk (where the head office of the “Russian Arctic” is situated) 1700 km, from FJL – 1800 km. FJL and Novaya Zemlya are part of Arkhangelsk region, that’s why the office is situated there.

Russian Arctic National Park was founded not so long ago, in 2009. Initially only the north of Novaya Zemlya was its part. Nature reserve “Franz Josef Land” was just under park’s management. In 2016, it became the official part of the Russian Arctic National Park.

The rules of staying on the territory of the national park are strict as it is specially protected area situated in the Arctic (which means there are a lot of dangers there and the nature is unbelievably fragile). Simply the group of people may break fragile ecosystem and their footsteps will literally be present for decades. Each small flower and lichen is very important. People should walk on the stones, not mosses and other vegetation. Also, they should watch under their feet – there are birds’ nests on the ground.

If a bird starts attracting your attention it means that you are too close to its nest.

There is a strict prohibition connected to animal feeding.  Polar bears learn truly fast and associate man with food (in both meanings). Feeding a polar bear never has a good ending. A builder was killed by a bear on Aleksandra Land in 2016, 2011 was marked with the death of meteorologist on Heiss Island.  In both cases these people violated the rules of staying within the Arctic territory, which is the kingdom of the polar bears.

Polar bears aren’t afraid of anything, the sound of a shot for them is similar to the sound of cracking ice. The bear can also survive the gunshot itself. Luckily for us, this animal usually prefers to avoid things it cannot understand (including people).

Arctic Foxes, despite their white colour in winter and fluffy appearance, are far from harmless guys. They are very curious and ask for food much more persistently than my beloved cat. In 2013 a team of scientists worked at Cape Flora for 3 weeks. Next to them settled three polar fox that were called Shurikami. The Shuriki accompanied the researchers to work, studied equipment and supplies. One day they arranged the end of the world, they tore the cable from the diesel generator. But it's not so scary. The worse is the fact that among the arctic foxes were cases of rabies. Now that's really dangerous.

The walruses are also dangerous. On land they are sluggish and very timid and in the sea they are fast and may be harmful. If the walrus seems like you are a danger, it attacks the boat without thinking. Another walrus may wonder what it is like - a boat. For him, as Maria Gavrilo said, it is something like an ice floe. And on the ice the walrus climbs helping itself with tusks.

There was a real battle near the vessel about half past six in the evening. Two short-tailed skuas attacked the gulls. Skuas prefer not to hunt and fish themselves, but to take away the prey from others. They attack their prey- gulls, force it to belch fish right in flight and deftly catch it. Shortly speaking, they are mafia.

More about the Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya

The Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya looks different. Novaya Zemlya is a continuation of the Ural Mountains and lasts 1000 km from South to North. There are smoothed ridges and the highest point is 1547meters.  Franz Josef Land is a frozen basaltic, i.e. lava volcanic plateau. Its appearance is completely different. There are flat tops which and the highest point is 67 meters.

The Franz Josef Land is the most ice-covered land of Russia. 85% of the territory is covered by glaciers. However, the last 50-70 years glaciers began to disappear and ice mass to melt. It is the reason of growing islands with different speed as it depends on type of glaciers. Temperature is about plus and minus 0 degrees during summer. In case you find the sunny and windless place you can even take sunbath! The temperature in some places can come up to 32 degrees!

There all types of ice at the FJL: domes or glacial shields. Slipping into the sea glaciers often form ice tongues.  In august 2013 the atomic icebreaker “50 Years of Victory” ran into an iceberg in spite of clear weather. Fortunately, nothing was damaged.

Some time ago the Novaya Zemlya was covered with ice and nowadays only 25% is  covered with ice.

About flora and fauna

From point of view the archipelagoes are examined not thoroughly, especially the north part of Novaya Zemlya. Vascular plants in terms of the number of species are the least diverse. There are 9 types of gazelle or polar poppy which are common on islands… In term of woody plants there is one common species. It is the polar willow. Mosses provide micro habitats an opportunity for the development of flowering plants as it is an excellent thermal isolator and keeps the permafrost at a stronger level.

Freshwater fish in water bodies can be found only in Novaya Zemlya.  There are no freshwater fish on the Franz Josef Land as most water bodies are frozen. The basis of diversity is a complex of Arctic coastal bottom fish which is difficult to study and monitor as it is almost  impossible to catch with the help of traditional weapons. And only by seeing birds catching fish you can understand that fish live in this region.

From the point of view of diversity and uniqueness, a new species of fish were described. Also in 2013 the first time was seen the arctic shark in the FJL water area with the help of deep-sea camera.

Polar cod is one of the most popular fish: it is a feed fir seals, narwhals, beluga whales, seabirds and striped whales. There are also capelin and cod in warm months.

The most numerous component is birds. There are the largest bird colonies at the FJL and NZ. There are lots of guillemots and kittiwakes on the birds colonies. However, dovekie is one of the most popular species of seabirds. They are small sometimes remind me flying balls.

There are not lots of species of mammals on the archipelagoes. On the NZ live reindeer (listed in the Red Book) and lemmings. If deer were at the FJL, it is believed that they had died 2,5-3 thousand years ago. Then lemmings did not reach the northernmost land of Eurasia at all.

Due to its remoteness the populations of the Atlantic walrus and the bowhead whales survived at the FJL. It was believed that the Spitsbergen population of the bowhead whale was completely exterminated but some whales still survived in the water area of ​​the FJL the same as walruses.

Greenland whales also appear in the NZ. Last year, in the area of ​​Cape Zhelaniya on the shore the Greenland whale was thrown out. The polar bears were happy. There were 16 of them and they ate the whale almost all summer. As a result they became round and brown. By the way, round became as well as seagulls last year on Cape Zhelaniya.


July 13. Day 6
July 13. Day 6
July 13. Day 6
July 13. Day 6
July 13. Day 6

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Updated 12.07.2017