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16 Oct, 2010 05:39

Adrift in the Arctic to prove Russia’s claim

A team of Russian scientists have begun a year-long expedition, drifting on an ice floe in the North Pole. Their aim is to prove Russia’s claim to the resources of the Arctic.

”The task is to prove it scientifically that Russia's continental shelf goes far beyond its northern shores, that it ends up deep in the Arctic. This is the primary task,” said presidential envoy to the North and South Poles, Artur Chilingarov.

The North Pole-38 expedition, consisting of 15 people, most of them in their 20s, will carry out dozens of experiments in the fierce winter. As well as studying the continental shelf, they will try to shed light on why the Arctic ice caps are melting and how rich the region is, in gas and oil deposits.

Chilingarov said the first telegrams sent from the new station were to the President and the Prime Minister, who are personally tracking all the latest news from the team. Further updates to the mainland will be sent by the head of the station, Tomash Petrovsky.

With over two dozen polar expeditions under his belt, Petrovsky will supervise the unloading and construction of the floating station.

”We will start with equipping our houses, with all the necessary amenities, with electricity. Then we will build a traditional canteen. But this at the end, when we’ve done the rest,” he said.

The youngest member of the expedition is the cook Dmitry Mitkovets. He promised his colleagues the menu of his Arctic restaurant will be rich and diverse. He showed RT a warm storage where the food will be kept.

“The products that should not be exposed to frost are here – vegetables, canned food, tea…. candies, cookies, pastries, groceries – everything, absolutely everything,” he said.

The electrician, Sergey Chernyaev is the oldest. He says this expedition is his dream come true and younger team members do not even realize how lucky they are to be part of such a thrilling adventure.

“For 20 years I had been trying to get here, you wouldn't believe it,” he said. “I had written countless letters to various institutions but they would tell me ‘You are a 30-year-old railroad worker. Stay where you are, you are too old for us!’ Now I am 50 and I am here.”

The first task of the expedition was to find an old, firm and thick piece of ice to host the North Pole-38 station, which was a tough challenge. During the search, the captain of the giant nuclear icebreaker had to run his ship at the lowest speed possible. He admitted that the mission is getting harder every year, as there are fewer and fewer ice fields.

With the Arctic ice cap getting thinner, at times the drill plunged down less than a meter. The explorers said, just five years ago their drill had bored into 30-meter-thick ice sheets.

Finally, after days of searching and dozens of test drills, the desired ice field was found. It was crucial not to damage the delicate ice, so the icebreaker remained stationary during the several days of unloading.

For the helicopters, the unloading was the most difficult task of the mission, as they had to transfer 300 tons of equipment in a snow storm and without a single landing.

The most precious cargo is a deepwater multibeam echosounder. For a year it will be gathering evidence to prove that the Lomonosov ridge is part of Russia's continental shelf.

Russia is in a race to submit its claim to the UN, scheduled for 2013.

On Friday night the fireworks marked the beginning of the real mission. The Russian flag was hoisted and the «Rossiya» icebreaker, which carried the men to the Arctic, headed back for the mainland, while the 15 men were left face to face with the harsh polar night.

A year of freezing conditions lies ahead for them, with painstaking studies of the Arctic world to reveal the treasures underneath.