Tuesday, 03 September 2019 17:21

“They didn’t just arise out of the ground!”

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The discovery of five new islands, emerging from under the glacier in the Kara Sea, excited the public. However, there are many questions that are not yet answered: what are the practical benefits of their discovery, how will the Arctic coastline change in the future, and what is the expedition doing to confirm the existence of the islands?



The expedition of the Northern Fleet of the Navy on August 27 confirmed the discovery of five new islands in the Kara Sea. They are located in Vise Bay, west of Severny Island, in the area of the Vylki Glacier. The area of new geographical objects ranges from 900 to 54,500 square meters. This is not the first discovery of lands from under the glacier in the region. They began to be fixed back in 2015-2016, and since then hydrographs have discovered more than 30 new islands, capes and bays. However, in order to put them on the map, the fact of observation is not enough - they must be studied, they need to conduct topographic and geodetic work, which is what military experts are now doing.

The expedition started on August 15 from Severomorsk. Scientists, representatives of the Russian Geographical Society and the Russian Arctic National Park advanced in the direction of the Franz Josef Land archipelago. In addition to geographical research, specialists are engaged in historical and archaeological research.


According to one of the organizers of the expedition, who decided to remain anonymous, the expedition was worked out for a long time, preparation for it took a year. In addition to practical, it is also symbolic: the campaign is dedicated to a number of events related to the discovery of Franz Josef Land, including the raising of the Soviet flag over this territory in 1929. Scientists specify the location of the burials of the participants of the first expeditions, repeat the routes of these expeditions - both by sea and by land, study the ice situation, assess the climatic and weather conditions and perform other scientific and practical tasks.

“It confirms that climate change is taking place, that the Arctic requires study, respect and constant monitoring of the situation,” he explains. - They are not just that - hop! - emerged from the ground. For the expansion of the territory of Russia, this discovery is absolutely irrelevant. There was a glacier - the islands became steel, what is the significance here? All objects that are found in the Arctic have more scientific significance than practical. ”

“On these islands, it is hardly possible to directly study the distant past of our planet. Can you imagine - these are rocks. The glacier leaves, and these bare islands open under it, ”says Andrey Glazovsky, a leading researcher at the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, arguing about the scientific significance of the recent discovery. On the other hand, he said, these islands serve as good markers. For example, in 2019, such a protrusion was exposed, and thanks to it, it is possible to accurately and accurately measure the further retreat of the glacier. “This is a stable place, not just reefs and rocks - these are rocks, against which you can build observation, use them as a reference,” Glazovsky explains.

In addition, the scientist says, it is necessary to explore these new geographical objects for navigation - to establish the depth in this area so that the ship "does not suddenly run into some kind of rock." In addition, they may be interesting from the point of view that some new life may appear on them: for example, some mosses may begin to grow. Scientists will be able to observe these processes.


“We announced that the discovery of five islands was confirmed, and immediately - op! - so much attention, it turned out a resonant event. Although it would seem — why wonder? ”The source of in the Northern Fleet asks a question. And then he replies that the whole point is that lately the public has not been spoiled by new geographical discoveries, which, if they happen, are in the Arctic and in the deep ocean - where the human foot steps infrequently.

He tells how the discovery was made: starting from 2011-2012, the Northern Fleet hydrographs increased activity in the Arctic. They examined the region and realized how thick the ice was, how it would melt, and suggested that some physical objects might be hidden under the ice that was leaving.

However, the author of the opening was a student of the Arctic faculty of the University of the Sea and River Fleet named after Admiral Makarov Marina Migunova, who in 2016, in the thesis, under the guidance of her scientific adviser, an experienced hydrograph, analyzed satellite images of the area. “And already realizing that there should be something there, our hydrographs went there. One of the tasks of the expedition was a detailed description of these islands, so that you can accurately say that yes - these objects were discovered, ”a source in the Northern Fleet explains. Now Marina is also at sea, as part of another northern expedition, and will return only in a month.


The discovery of new lands emerging from under the glacier is not a recent trend at all. According to Andrei Glazovsky, glaciers have been shrinking since the 19th century, just now the speed of ice cover reduction is increasing. “Those glaciers that end in the sea recede, bays are released, and in these bays there may be subglacial geographic formations. When the glacier departs, they come out in the form of separate rocks or even islands that are now being discovered, ”he explains.

Climate warming is contributing to the melting of ice. However, glaciers do not just melt due to rising temperatures - the process of their destruction is more due to the fact that many icebergs break off from them. This is connected not only with the air temperature, but also with the currents and with the temperature of the water that washes the glacier.

According to Glazovsky, one cannot speak of any specific benefit from “a rock that cannot be cut or sold”, but it is necessary to study the lands that have come out from under the ice - first of all, in order to effectively predict the direction of movement of icebergs, which depends on the terrain each specific bay. These objects can harm the navigation and development of new mineral deposits on the shelf, damage platforms and other underwater and surface structures.


In general, the process of destruction of glaciers really does not bring anything pleasant. Now the level of the oceans is rising by about three millimeters per year, and if you multiply this figure by a hundred years, you get 30 centimeters. “There are predictions that precisely in connection with the destruction of glaciers, these rates will increase, and by the end of the century the level will increase not by 30 centimeters, but by a meter or a half. It is very important. Beaches, port facilities can be endangered, ”says Glazovsky. However, there is no great threat to the Russian coastline, and there is no reason to say that, soon, let’s say, Murmansk will be flooded, since it is located high above sea level. Rather, these processes worry the inhabitants of Northern Europe and the Americans, who are threatened by the onset of the oceans in Florida. However, it is important to understand here that, as Glazovsky says, "the point is not that the sea level will rise evenly, like water in a bathtub." As an example, he cites an increase in storm surges, which can lead to serious problems in coastal areas. Russia will get off easily - captains and pilots just have to get used to the new outlines of the coast, to adapt to the changed situation. “The problem is not so much in these changes, but in adapting to them - how successfully, efficiently and cheaply this will happen,” Glazovsky explains. 


However, the tasks of the Northern Fleet expedition do not include the study of such global processes. After confirming the discovery of five new islands, researchers are mainly faced with the task of studying historical and cultural heritage. Specialists must land on more than 15 islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago in search of traces of pioneer expeditions, establish commemorative flags and signs.

The task is not easy. “You see, it’s not like going out into the courtyard and finding something, or how treasure hunters walk along the beach and look for forgotten things. There were people there — one or two expeditions, and that's all, no more. On the fingers you can count the moments when a person’s foot stepped there. This region, in principle, is not adapted for life, it is difficult to access, it’s very difficult for a person to survive here, ”says the source of the in the Northern Fleet. The work ahead is long and painstaking: scientists will search for personal items of the participants of the first expeditions, their parking, specify the routes of the first campaigns.

The Altai tugboat, on which Northern Fleet specialists are located, will stay at sea for another month - weather and ice conditions permit and it will not have to be transferred to the port earlier. At the end of September, the work of the expedition will be completed, and in October, after systematizing and analyzing the data, scientists will announce its results at a large press conference.




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