Expedition Diaries 2017

July 18. Day 11

July 18. Day 11

If you took a photo with a sea on the background, you would not understand that you are in the Arctic. The sea is blue, the sky is bright, the sun is shining, the snow on the far islands looks like a white sand. Therefore, for the spectacular photo, you’d better wait for an iceberg or ice block.

The northernmost point

Today the Arctic Floating University reached the northernmost point in its history: 81o15’7’’N. It had not been so far in the north during previous 9 expeditions. The vessel is now near Kun and Keyn islands, just a bit to the north. As Dmitry Kovalev had promised, when we were in our northernmost point, the weather was calm and clear. It’s a pity we didn’t reach Rudolf Island, but anyway, I think that nature makes us a fairy gift. Konstantin Zaikov told that the global changes in Arctic had provided opportunities for conducting research work, as well as for educational purposes and in terms of training for those who would work in the Arctic conditions.

Kun and Keyn islands are covered with snow, green parts of land can be found on the slopes only, illuminated by the sun almost the whole day long. It seems there is moss there, and some other vegetation. Blooming saxifrages are not well seen from the vessel deck.

The major types of vegetation on Novaya Zemlya and especially on FJL are mosses and lichens. Grass-lichen-moss high arctic tundra is dominating on the islands. Moss and lichen are dominating among the flora communities, vascular (flowering) plants cover up to 10-40% of the whole surface.

Flowering plants have predominantly stocky, spread living form and settle in a moss covering. Local types of vascular plants are perennial, except for the Cohlearia groenlandica species. Flora on FJL counts up to 50 kinds of vascular plants, 167 kinds of lichen, over 30 kinds of hepatic moss, around 120 kinds of green moss and 67 kinds of mushrooms. From the books: there is Clitocybe dryadicola on FJL in the list of poisonous mushrooms, which was found on George’s Land. Although, once I was told that all the mushrooms on FJL are potentially eatable. Although it’s better not to try them. One kind of mushrooms on FJL is even hallucinogenic.

Of birds

We didn’t see many bird species on Kuna Island (mostly little auks). They were sitting on rocks and flying around. I think they did it to have a look at us and check whether we are dangerous for them or not.

Irina Pokrovskaya asked to make clear that not all guillemots have “glasses” (about coloring), only about 10% of the bird population. To be honest, I wouldn’t tell the difference even in my own glasses. Irina said that only experienced birdwatchers can distinguish one guillemot out of the many others.

Little auks and guillemots are one of the most wide-spread birds in the Arctic region. Irina was telling about whom we can meet on the islands besides these kinds of birds. Theoretically – everyone. Many birds have very funny Russian names. For example, “shchegol” (in English it would be translated as swaggerer). Dunlin has also funny Russian name. It can be met within Novaya Zemlya territory, but once it was registered o FJL (Bell Island).

There is bird named ruff. In Russian, this name sounds amazing (“turukhtan”). Last year such a bird travelled half of Novaya Zemlya with us, sitting on “Molchanov” ‘s monkey island.

Peregrine falcon gerfalcon also sometimes fly up to the arctic islands. The latter sometimes is called “Russian falcon”, though in reality it is a symbol of the Northern Canada. Among predators most well-known arctic bird is, of course, polar night owl. It has the same coloring in winter and summer, and never gets dark feathers. Only females and chicks have a bit darker plumage. Usually these birds catch 7-12 mice (or other small animals) per day. There is some statistics that this owl gets 1600 lemmings per year. There are no lemmings on FJL, that’s why the number of owls is also small. On Novaya Zemlya vice versa. People who work on Cape Zhelaniya often see them. 

Cape Zenit

We returned to Heiss Island and landed near Cape Zenit. It is not typical place for working here though, but very breathtaking and informative. Our geologists come to the places where basalts can be found, so they usually go either far away, or high. Or both.. I tried to keep pace with them, but failed, when they were climbing a mountain. I think “Molchanov” ‘s delicious cakes are to blame.

In the morning along the island Solbery went to atomic icebreaker “50 years of Victory”. Everyone made photos of it and at the same time lots of us was disappointed with its size. The popular icebreaker has tourist flights to the North Pole during summer. We didn`t see the helicopter at all. For short time it shifted away in the straight where it is impossible us to get and finally appeared again after some hours.

It seems the tourists have not noticed us because the vessel Molchanov mixes with sea and sky.  And the icebreaker distinguishes with its red-black colors make the icebreaker from the icebergs, glaciers and sea.

 I can imagine tourists on the icebreaker saying:

— Wow, look! There is a ship! What vessel is it? It is rare to meet someone else in the Arctic! Let’s look, it is interesting!

I am sure that hundreds of photo cameras shot us.

At that time on Zenit Cape the group studying soils started to work on the coastal areas where the ground and soils existed and geological group went to the stones.

Stones on the FJL are very sly and cunning. It is a bit dangerous to walk near the drops to the sea as stones can fall down and there is a risk to fall down with them. You have to control yourself and think not only about such beautiful places but also about safety. In some places there are swamps in which it is possible to bog. The brodni- special high waterproof boots- is a must have in such a case. Thank such a wise person who recommended to take it with! 

Curious fact but experience of polar explorer doesn`t make a sense.  It doesn`t matter whether you are a pioneer in the Arctic exploration or not you anyway may mess up your cloth and then wash you boots for example in streams. On Zenit Cape we found interesting solids not only for geologists but for other research groups too.

The group that study soils has found a huge number of spherulites which are a remarkable object of Franz Josef Land in general.

— Looks like we have dug the potatoes- noticed Anya.

 Normally they are associated with the Champ island because of very big stones at the one place.

The biggest is about 3 meters in diameter. It is very impressive in spite of the fact that from one side it is already not round and looks like it has been beaten. The smaller stones have ideal sphere shape.

Except of the big stones there are also a number of small spherulites. The Heiss Island is situated near the Champ Island and there are also such stones occur. Once I found a round stone on Winer-Neishtadt island at the same part of archipelago. Actually, it is incorrect to name such stones as spherulites. From scientific point of view it is ball-shaped concretions. According to the versions of their origin they were formed due to tiny sandy re-formation of mountain solids. Pearls have the same way of formation. 

Dmitry Metelkin said that it was drops that flew around when the dikes confronted with each other. They were melted and then got frozen. The huge drops should be in such case!

Near the places of field work groups were found some left-overs of someone meal. The one who had eaten it left its footprints. It seems a prey was a floe rat and a lucky eater was a burgomaster. It seemed the bird had brought the bone.

After the geologists we climbed on the second downhill. Truly speaking, it was such a wonder!

It was a narrow ridge where it was impossible for several participants to go together. While I was making photos I was afraid to loose balance. In that case it would be too high to fall down.

At the top there it was possible to enjoy a beautiful view on valley and sea where the vessel Molchanov was surrounded with icebergs. The day was sunny and shadows are sharp. It looked like one iceberg was made of paper as origami and the neighbouring one was turquoise.

Snow angel

While we were waiting a boat Ann made a little snowman as a typical spherilte in these places. Yeah, I hope that in Arkhangelsk summer hasn`t been finished yet. But now we are making snow angels in July! 


July 18. Day 11
July 18. Day 11
July 18. Day 11
July 18. Day 11
July 18. Day 11
July 18. Day 11

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Updated 12.07.2017