Expedition Diaries 2017

July 24. Day 17

July 24. Day 17

Today I have woken up cause of calling me on the navigation bridge. I had jumped up and hurry-scurry. Fortunately, nothing serious has happen. We just had internet connection and Konstantin Sergeevich wanted inform me about the new e-mail letter. Such a good morning! After a cup of coffee with condensed sugar milk I finally was able to wake up. I have taken a skirt to walk on Solovky but I am not sure that I will fit it after more than 2 weeks of eating. Which is more, leopard coloration of my legs and solovetsky mosquitos are stop me to put it on.

The most romantic verses

This tossing has already stopped. At the same time almost all participants get used and don`t pay much attention to it. Yesterday me and Aleksandr Saburov had the second place in the “hat” game. I was upset! Very upset! Really!!! And we didn`t have this awful word “luminenscence” that no one was able to explain. It was incredible how Jesus tried to explain a word “carburettor” through “injector”. The more amazing that Ksenia guessed the word!

We had poetry evening today with verses on four languages. Dmitry Nikitin was a Russian group representative. Almost all verses has he written by his own. They were very romantic: about Arctic, seas, oceans, sunsets, captains and polar lights.

Each arctic lover understands his lines, especially those who has sworn that would not come back to the high latitude Artic. I had done it 5 times.

Half a year will pass-

Call my polar friend and ask:

“Will we in such a beautiful weather

Go to the Arctic North somewhere?”

Performances of Chantal and Jasmin were more expressive. They read romantic but sometimes gloomy ballads of ХVII century on German. I even have understood some words from Italian verses which were presented by Annick. I remember some of the Latin words from school. French verses were about freedom. Classical topics: freedom, love, romantic, heroism- all is good.  But what a surprise when soils and its researches are sources of inspiration! About the extraordinary beauty of gray gley – the bottom layer of soil about how to dig horizon. Then I will write his whole poem. To my mind, it is very similar to the song and Dima have to put it to music. But firstly, a preface.

Soil and its inhabitants

Soil is a unique product of the living and non-living that forms the pedosphere (pedos is the soil in Greek, not to be confused with a child).

As explained Dmitry there are 5 factors of soil formation: climate, relief, rocks, biota (all organisms not just plants) and time. The result of all formed different soil types is their different horizons. The poem describes the forests oil where the top layer is a ground litter, there are all sorts of leaves, grass which had not yet really decompose. In this horizon there is the main concentration of organisms in nature according to Dmitry as well as the main biochemical action. In one gram of soil can be up to 10 billion microorganisms and up to several kilometers of fungal mycelium not counting the darkness of invertebrates. Some people say that all organisms on the Earth are soil organisms. For example, digging a den bear or ground squirrel or collecting mushrooms man. Horizon A is formed under the litter – humus which is the most valuable for fertility. Further, since we are talking about the forest and there is quite a lot of rain and they exceed the evaporation, it turns out the downward flow of water and the E-horizon is formed- podzolic horizon. There could be organic matter and clay minerals washing.

Therefore, sand dominates in the podzolic horizon. There is a relatively large amount of oxygen in all these three upper horizons. Below is situated a horizon in B which accumulate all that was washed off the top, mostly clay minerals. This is called an illuvial horizon. As it is deep it has a lot of clay and little oxygen. Therefore there exists process of recovering and not oxygen. Iron is also washed out. Oxidized iron with third degree of oxidation transfers to iron with the oxidation number 2. Some of its oxides have blue color, e.g. FeO. In clay horizon water gathers and forms a thing called gley. Gley is a soil layer which is dominated by reduced forms of iron. However, its creation involves special anaerobic micro-organisms that do not need oxygen and may gain energy due to the fact that they reproduce this iron. Gley horizon is more often grey and dull, but sometimes it has dark blue. Then after opening it should be pictured until it rusts, so that until the iron is not oxidized. The next horizon C is already rock.

This poem was written by Dmitry Nikitin, the 3rd year  post-graduate student of faculty of soil science, Department of biology and soils at MSU.


Get up in the morning early and so I start my day,

Fenny area is on my way,

To feel the sense of nature

And May as in portraiture.


Sharp ground spade

Will I dig deeper the section.

And find then grey gley

Of brown and achre complexion.


Knead I in my hands OT (ou and ti) -

On the remaining of plants will take a look.

Will search I long for A and E,

Kneading the clay that was wet that I took.


Lenz will I take and coprolites find

But Kutani is not an easiest kind.

Deeper will I ortshamon reach

Need I for experiments each.


Admiring the blue Bg azure bridge,

With a sausage will make up I sandwich

Then put it in a bag in the foil,

So that it couldn`t change its soil .


I will select samples from the bottom to upper layer

So one does not polluted that the deeper one.

And myself then I do not reject.

With pot its not to live from jet!


I do not need any more this section.

Bury it and go to a new direction.

But the soul is not the subject to my mind -

I didn't have any strength to swing in any kind!


Top is emeraldine carpet.

Below is pale E pattern.

Depth design of tricky gley,

Unearthly beauty play!


Only then I realize:

So the love for Russia is glorifies,

And I ready to meet the lead -

My home is road and that is guaranteed !


Small Latin letters denote the sub-horizons of soils which can be in a huge amount.

Dmitry specialty is microbiologist and he has taken soil samples for microbiological studies. On each island he has made 1-2 sections, each section consists of 4 horizons with samples for metagenomic studies, classical microbiological culture when grown on a nutrient medium as well as physical and chemical. The latter samples can be simply dried while other are taken to the freezer. Ideally liquid nitrogen and minus 80 is needed. At this temperature all processes freeze, but it is not the fact that it is a lower temperature limit of the existence of life. The upper limit is determined to + 120 degrees when any protein turns to mush. But the bottom...

The samples were examined for the number of inhabitants, biomasses as well as the length of the mycelium. It is not forest, so it will be meters and not kilometers. The next step is financing.

- If we manage to win grants we will give it on the sequencing in Saint-Petersburg.  Finally, it will be able to know what exactly bacteria, fungi, archaea and quality compound.


Generally, as Dmitry said, life on Earth, oddly enough, loves the cold more than the heat. And 85% of the biosphere exists at temperatures only 5 degrees in polar regions, high mountains, caves, lakes and in the ocean.

- It is clear that organisms have to adapt, not only microorganisms, but also the macro ones. We can see that on example of cod, for her optimum growth temperature is +4 degrees, if temperature is higher, there will be less fish. For microbes is not so pronounced.

Germs don’t care about frost at all. They have protective proteins-antifreeze enzymes that work at low temperatures, alcohols – polyatomic ones, and even fat – that is, saturated fatty acids and lipids. At low temperatures cells do not grow old... So, that's another story.

And story about cod and soils I will leave for tomorrow.

The first results

So now are the preliminary results of, let’s call it, field work. We are returning back home and the stage of the field work, including conducting research in the sea, is mostly finished. There will be one more hydrological station near Solovki islands. As Konstantin Zaikov said, a tremendous work is done in different directions: a complex of marine research is carried out (including biodiversity and the hydrological regime of the Barents Sea, its atmosphere), and a very strong foundation is made in land-based studies: soils, vegetation, microfauna, birds, and historical and cultural heritage.

- The expedition had to make serious adjustments to the route at the Northern and Western parts, change the points that had been scheduled to visit. This was due to heavy ice conditions near Graham-bell Island, the fog in the Cape Flora and the Oranskiye Islands as well as meeting with a polar bear at the meteorological station of the Heiss Island. Still we managed to work smoothly on Alexandra Land and Hooker islands, Heiss Island, Fersman Island, Alger Island of Franz Josef land and the Cape Zhelaniia of Novaya Zemlya. There were 6 landings where the members of the expedition collected interesting, even unique materials for each of the areas of research. This will allow us to get interesting scientific results by the end of this year or the beginning of the next one.

An important part of the expedition this year was the recovery of a complex marine research, which for the first time of the AFU expeditions was supplemented by marine biology. It is primarily the study of phyto- and zooplankton and changes of its characteristics depending on the latitude in the waters of Franz Joseph Land and the North-East of the Barents Sea between Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya.

- This work was carried out in conjunction with research on the transformation of the Atlantic water masses. This is important because it allows not only to determine the characteristics of plankton, but also link it to the peculiarities of the hydrological regime of the region, which will allow to draw conclusions on how the circulation of water masses affects the plankton. This in turn will help to determine optimal areas for the extraction of marine biological resources in this part of the Russian Arctic.

As for the Cape Zhelaniia, we have done a lot of work in groups that are studying the soil cover and areas with increased anthropogenic impact. A group of soil scientists from the Institute of geography RAS and MSU conducted a second landing at Cape Zhelaniia, where in 2015 they were conducting field works during the AFU expedition and discovered two kinds of soil new for this region.

– We needed backup data with new information, which was collected this year.

Employees of NARFU Elena Gusakova and Anna Trofimova were collecting contaminated soil samples for metagenomic analysis. This is important to identify enzymes that can produce micro-organisms for decomposition of pollutants in the Arctic.

(For reference: In the North part of Novaya Zemlya, including the territory of Cape Zhelaniia, Arctic cleaning was conducted in 2013-15. In 2013 more than 4,000 tons of debris were exported, including 2.206 tons of scrap metal; in 2014 1.500 tons (mainly coal), and in 2015 – 1 400 tons of trash, mostly scrap metal. The station area does not look like it did 4 years ago).

And now back to summarizing the results of field work.

- Summarizing the results, I can say that new horizons are reached, we started to study backgrounds for conducting new important kinds of research connected with the Arctic region and its exploration, - concluded the head of the expedition.

Literature, music and seals

The most popular books of our expedition are "Mistress into maid" and "Dubrovsky" by Pushkin. There is even a queue to read them. Even more than for the pies. Another popular book (I want this one!): "Underside white" by Ramiz Aliyev.

Evening lecture held by Irina Pokrovskaya was dedicated to pinnipeds. First seals in the nature I saw in 1999 on the ice in the White sea. This is one of the three places on the planet where harp seal pups are born (kids with slightly greenish skin, which in just a few hours becomes white). These pups, which are called belyoks in Russian, are most touching pussies with huge black eyes, which make a lasting impression. Toys of Belyok I saw in Japan, where they are not naturally found, and my brother brought me it from Spain, where they are not found especially. The two other places where harp seals are born are Norwegian Jan Mayen and if I'm not mistaken, the coast of Labrador. On Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya only adult harp seals are found, but you can buy a souvenir in the form of Belyok in Tikhaya Bay.

Pinnipeds have a common ancestor with bears. They separated about 30 million years ago. If you look closely, you can notice that resemblance has left, though they are not related to beavers and otters.

Harp seal is the most widespread species of marine mammals in the Barents Sea. The size adult seal can be up to 180 cm, weight up to 140 kg. Males have a characteristic color: silver-grey wool, a black head and a black horseshoe-shaped line stretching from the shoulders on both sides, shaped like a harp. Females are paler than males. Harp seals of the Kara and Barents seas give birth to pups on the ice floes of the White sea.

Seal, which is called the ringed one – is the seal, most commonly occurring in the Arctic. It is small, round, its size is up to five feet, and this creature is terribly curious. For him a characteristic pattern coat contains bright rings with a dark frame. Ringed seals are well adapted to year-round stay in the sea, more likely to live alone. By the way, they love the music. If you turn it up, the seal can pop out of the polynya and even out on the ice. I saw it myself.

Today we had a musical evening held by a music band called SV (that is, Sasha Saburov and Valya Volkova). The name of the group was changed several times during the expedition, but the composition remains the same. 10+1 song were planned in the program, but the concert continued, and even Eric could not resist and sang a very beautiful Canadian song in French: "For those who live nearby, but it is not for Kostya!"

July 24. Day 17
July 24. Day 17
July 24. Day 17
July 24. Day 17
July 24. Day 17

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Updated 12.07.2017