Arctic (Global Adventures): A Russian polar expedition will start to search for a new manned ice drifting station in the Arctic. 15 researchers on board of the nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya hope to set-up NP-38 on an ice floe, a floating chunk of ice that is less than 6 miles (10 kilometers) in its greatest dimension, for a year-long expedition.
The idea to use drifting ice to explore high latitudes of the Arctic Ocean was first developed by Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen, a Norwegian explorer, scientist, and Nobel laureate. The champion Skier and ice skater led the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888 and won international fame during a 3-year North Pole expedition that took place from 1893 to 1896.
The first scientific drifting ice station in the world, called North Pole-1 (NP-1), was established on May 21, 1937 by Otto Yulyevich Schmidt. The ice floe holding the research station drifted 1,770 miles (2,850 kilometers) before a Russian ice breaker picked up the four explorers manning the station nine months later. Russia did set up drifting stations on ice floes frequently since 1954. One of the most important discoveries made during such a drift was the identification of Lomonosov Ridge, which crosses the Arctic Ocean.
Based on European and U.S. satellite imagery, a team of Russian scientists preselected over two dozen ice fields as potential hosts for NP-38. After closer inspections, most ice floes did not meet the basic requirements. The researchers look for the “perfect” junk of ice that is about 1.9 by 2.5 miles (3 by 4 kilometers) large, of oval shape and as thick as possible.
Finding an ice floe that is 20 or 30 yards (meters) thick was not a big problem in the past, but now most fields inspected have a thickness of less than two yards (meters). The 15 scientists that will be part of the expedition have to unload about 300 tons of equipment from the icebreaker after they have identified a suitable base for NP-38. The Rossiya is currently traveling north through the Eastern Siberian Sea, several news agencies report.
Setting up research stations on drifting ice is not without controversy. Earlier in 2010, a team of Russian explorers needed to be rescued from NP-37 after the ice floe became unstable. Russian is the only country in the world that uses drifting ice as a base for research stations.