Expedition Diaries 2017

July 23. Day 16

July 23. Day 16

We are coming back, even running. There is almost no tossing, I think we escaped from the Cape Zhelaniia right in time to avoid the storm. I don’t know why but I woke up at 7.50, though I fell asleep only at 4 a.m. My morning entertainments: to talk to Jesus about Cuba’s 4200 islands, to look whether there is or there is no internet, to get condensed milk and sour cream from the kitchen, remember anything about the defensive constructions of the Cape Zhelaniia.

Defensive constructions of the Cape Zhelaniia

It’s a pity that national park representatives didn’t manage to conduct their archaeological works on Vostochny Bolshoi Oransky Island (Eastern Big Oransky Island), where last year ancient pomor boat was found. Evgeny Yermolov wanted to examine it and take a try to take it onboard the “Molchanov”. It seems this work will be done next season. This year Zhenya is going to “save” Ziegler’s campground on Alger Island.

Last year Evgeny has been working on Cape Zhelaniia and found there many interesting artefacts. Let me tell you the story. On August 25, 1942, a German submarine approached meteorological station on Cape Zhelaniia (it was situated about twenty meters away from the coast and everyone could easily see it) and opened fire. I am going to ask what are the deepest places near this cape.

Captain answered that it is deep near the cape, a steep underwater shore comes from 50 to 300 meters abruptly. Our “Molchanov” was drifting about 850 meters from the coast. The depth there is about 15 meters, so we could have approach the island even closer.

Fire destroyed meteorological house, library, archive (all meteorological data for the last years was also destroyed), though polar explorers were not injured. Gunfire was a surprise for them, though they had already been ready for something like this. They even managed to conduct a return fire and shot the submarine. On August 25, 1942, they sent a radio message “we are conducting a return fire in the direction of the enemy using all our weapons”, though all the people on the station were civilians. In September 1941, a specially trained soldier came to Cape Zhelaniia and brought a 45-millimeter cannon, installed it and gave all the necessary instructions.  There were two places for cannons on the cape so we can assume that there was more than one cannon, as well as machine guns. They were brought away from the station after the war had ended. There is a version that once meteorologists decided to make a firework out of these weapons and after this case they were ordered (from the mainland) to get rid of it. Cannons were put on the ice.

Historians don’t know exactly when the defensive system which surrounds the whole cape, appeared.  There are German photos of Cape Zhelaniia dated 1943, there defensive constructions were not seen. When inhabitants of the station started making these defensive system is not clear. All in all, now there found 58 structures. Most of them were found by Evgeny himself last year. Before this happened only 17 defensive buildings had been known. Cape Zhelaniia is a well-guarded territory. There are several special places for machine guns which covered the only area of the shore where landing is possible. These places have stone basis and wooden walls. Also, there are firing positions and fortifications. All these is the result of a colossal work. Fortunately, polar explorers who lived here didn’t use these constructions, so local flora and fauna decided to occupy them. For example, polar bears like to sleep there, as well as in some other buildings (no doubt with comfort).


Who was begging for the storm, tossing and other marine pleasures? I know at least one such person! His name is Aleksander and he seats in front of me at the dining table. We are running away from the storm and it still reaches us successfully. The consequence is that our speed has lowered down due to high waves. Though the tossing due to this moment is not tough as well. Today the captain has prohibited us to go to open air decks, you can take a look at the “leadish” waves though the cabin or navigation bridge windows. Though you’d better not come to the navigation bridge without a reason, somebody even put a sheet of paper to the door “there is no K. Zaikov inside”. During the day, everyone could enjoy waves lit by the sunlight.

Tossing influences me a strange way: I always want to eat and sleep. If I fell asleep during the day I have nightmares...

We passed Oransky Islands which are the part of Novaya Zemlya archipelago being at the same time a separate archipelago (strange!). These islands are the northernmost ones of Novaya Zemlya islands in Barents Sea. If we had studied only Novaya Zemlya region (as we did last year) we would have reached the northernmost point of our expedition here. These small islands consist of two groups: Malye Oranskie Islands (Small Oranskie Islands, the southern ones) and Bolshie Oranskie Islands (Big Oranskie Islands, the northern ones). They were discovered in 1594 by William Barents and this explorer gave them names after prince Moriz Oransky (1567-1625). There is a translation from some languages (don’t remember exactly which ones) as “orange islands”. Novaya Zemlya in Dutch reads like “Nova Zembla”. It is written on the table which was installed on the Cape Zhelaniia in honor of Barents expedition.

The whole area of Oranskie Islands is about 3 km2, the height is up to 30 meters. There is a walrus rookery there where up to 1 thousand animals can be at the same time. The rocks became good places for bird rookeries presented by guillemots, terns, kittiwakes and seagulls. All in all, there are thousands of birds (the greatest number consists of kittiwakes and guillemots). You can also meet there arctic parrots, big skuas, polar terns and so on. I would like to see an arctic parrot, it’s very beautiful…

There is a photo contest and up to July 25 everyone can give their photos and become a participant.

Complicated Arctic region

Today we had lectures about Arctic ecology, whales and marine legislation within the territory of polar regions. Dmitry Nikitin told us about the main ecological issues in the Arctic. Contingently they can be divided into environmental and anthropogenic ones. Anthropogenic even got the nickname “antropogan” which became the top-word of our expedition. Last year it was “tuneyagodki” (lazy girls).

Environmental problems contain climate change, reduction of arctic ice and species invasion. To which extend the human is to blame in these problems is a good question. For the last 100 years an average temperature in the Arctic has risen by 4-5 degrees. Ice cover decreased by 25% from the year 1970 to 2002 according to the satellite data. Now we almost came to the northernmost point of FJL (not on an icebreaker, an ordinary vessel!). In early times, it was impossible – it was ice everywhere. During the last 10 years sea ice within the territory of FJL melts almost totally during summer period.

Invasion of species: correct me if I am mistaken.  For example, is Polar shark or humpback whale invasion? Or skua with its expansion of areal? Anthropogenic invasion is king crab or humpback salmon in Barents Sea. Nowadays it is possible to fish humpback all year round! Or another example: it is considered that no one can catch cold at the archipelago because of local stimulants absence, all respiratory diseases are brought by humans.

The extraction of mineral resources is one of anthropogenic dangers. The riskiest is oil and gas.20% of world gas and 90% of Russian gas is extracted in arctic territories. There is also a number of other mineral resources such as nickel and copper. For example, development of Pavlovskoe deposit of plumbous-zinc ores on the South island of Novaja Zemlya will be started soon. However, in 1970s there was an idea to create a national reserve on that area.

There is one more problem- extraction of living resources. Greenland whales at the beginning of ХХ century were almost exterminated as well as Atlantic walruses.  Militarization is also a problem. Military bases always have negative consequences, especially those that were constructed 50-70 years ago. Launching of intercontinental rockets also not beneficial for environment.

Andrej Todorov started his lectures on how the marine, offshore and other activities are regulated on the international level. For example, sectorial division of the Arctic- it is about land. It was suggested when at this part of Earth were discovered new islands. There was no question which of 5 arctic countries would own this land. There was also new information about sea law. I didn`t know that except of territorial waters there are also 12 nautical miles zone, 24 nautical miles zone- buffer zone. The ship can stay there and wait for border guard for crossing the territorial border. Exclusive economic zone- it is again about the water. Navigation is free. Also the difference between Arctic and Antarctic: Arctic is sea surrounded by land and Antarctic is land surrounded by water.

Why Swiss students are interested in the Arctic?

We have already told with Hoesli Eric about goals of his students during the expedition from three Swiss universities: University of Geneva, University of Lausanne, Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne.

It is very interesting approach that future specialists in different spheres work on global and urgent topic together on the board of the Molchanov and analyze it from different sides as well as from Russian point of view.

It is not enough to prepare engineers just for work but it is important to teach them to work in a global world. That`s why they have to understood another culture, countries as well as approaches. 

— Nowadays it is a problem. Talented students finish universities with good knowledge. However they know very little about China. Russia or South Africa and consider that world exists only with western rules but is not true.  It is important to understand and consider how to work and solve problems other countries. It is the goal and idea of the whole project — to look at the global world from different points of view, different cultures, countries and histories.

The problem of changing climate was chosen for the projects during the Arctic Floating University and the goal of the participants to understand how this topic is interpreted in Russia.

The best 25 students were chosen and had courses, lections about Russia and Arctic.

— This program lasts already more than one year, — told us Eric. – There are two options for one who wishes participate in this project — Russia and China. Each candidate must have a CV because we choose best of the best!

For each student participating in the expedition is final part of the studying program and presentation of their private or group project.

— We would like to repeat such an expedition and extend the sphere of cooperation with Russia in order to work and other global problems. The NArFU named after M.V. Lomonosov is our reliable partner. I hope that this expedition won`t end and our students will continue to communicate with the Russian colleagues and students. Our goal is to organize the cooperation and mutual understanding. I have travelled a lot through Soviet Union and Russia. The country is very big and it is impossible to see the whole country. On contrary, the more I travel through Russia the less I understood the country. It is similar to study ocean if you know you never be a fish.

I have asked Eric if he wants to write something about the expedition as a journalist. His answer was “no”. What a pity!

— Yes, I am a journalist but here works a group of three students that study journalism. It is their duty to provide different people with information about the expedition.

They have to think how to tell different people the information about the expedition and its program so that it will be interesting both for scientists and common readers.

All the materials would be possible to find on the websites of our three universities. As well as our sponsors.

Students are waiting for stories about arctic adventures of Swiss travelers, — said Eric. — There are 40 000 students at these universities. All the information will spread quickly.

July 23. Day 16
July 23. Day 16
July 23. Day 16
July 23. Day 16
July 23. Day 16
July 23. Day 16

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Updated 12.07.2017