Russian-Soviet polar stations and their role in the Arctic Seas exploration
High latitudes are often called "the kitchen of weather". The appropriateness of cyclones and anticyclones formation, fronts and cloud systems is ruled by the difficult interaction of the atmosphere and the Arctic ocean, which is covered with ice the longest part of the year. For the exploration of the processes, whiсh take part in this "kitchen" in the water and in the air, on the Arctic seas shores, often in absolutely isolated places, some small settlements – polar stations are formed. Their inhabitants make very important work – observe the weather and ocean condition. In this report the basic stages of the history of hydrological exploration of waters and ices of polar seas, very important both for knowledge of fundamental climatic interactions, and for successful navigation in the Arctic, are presented.
First we got to know the facts about the condition of ices written in the diaries of Gerrit de Fer, and the participator of traveling, Holland seaman Willem Barents (late 16th c.), we also learned some facts from Russian coast-dweller’s notes, in account to participators of the Great Northern Expedition of 1733 – 1742.
In the year of 1875 one of the heads of the Austrian-Hungarian expedition on board the ship "Tegethof" (1872 – 1874) Karl Weipreht (1838 – 1881) suggested the organization program of a special station net, where with the help of the same devices, using the same methods and during the same time period, the weather and ice observations would be held. During the International Conferences in 1880 – 1881 the organization arrangements and observing programs of the First International Polar Year (I IPY) were worked out. The beginning of the I IPY was to be in August 1882, and the end in August 1883. At this time the first net of scientific stations in the polar parts of the Earth was organized.
The obligatory program included only the meteorological and geomagnetic observations, but some stations (e.g. on the Fire Earth) observed also the hydrological parameters. For example the sea temperature was measured regularly.
The headmaster of the Main Geophysical Observatory in St. Petersburg, the Academician G.I. Wild was elected the President of the International Polar Committee. 12 countries – the participants of the I IPY (Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Canada, Norway, Russia, the USA, Finland, France, Sweden) – organized 13 stations in the Arctic and 2 in the Antarctic Regions.
Two polar stations (Malye Karmakuly on the Novaya Zemlya, headed by sea officer lieutenant K.P. Andreev, the researchers midshipman D.A. Volodkovsky, physicist V.E. Fuss, doctor L.F. Grinevetsky and the student of St. Petersburg University N.V. Krivosheya, and Sagastyr’ in the Lena River’s mouth, headed by staff-captain of the navigator school N.D. Yurgens, observers doctor A.A. Bunge and Ph.D in mathematics A.G. Eigner) were organized by Russian Goverment. The staff of both stations consisted not only of the researchers, but also of sailors and civilian workers.
The results of the observations of the 1st IPY stations were great and very interesting. The first experience of the international work in the Arctic was very fruitful, and some time later much more extensive observations during the 2nd IPY (1932 – 33) and during the 1st International geophysical Year (1st IGY) in 1957 – 58 were organized.
The successful work of the first Russian polar stations in Sagastyr’ and on the Novaya Zemlya caused in Russia the increase of interest to hydro-meteorological explorations in the Northern Polar Region. Quick development of northern navigation required hydro-meteorological information badly. That’s why in the year of 1886 the hydro-meteorological department was created in the Main Hydrographic Management (MHM) of the Marine Ministry. And in the year of 1912 according to the suggestion of sale ports department of the Sale and Industry Ministry was organized a hydro-meteorological service on the seashore of European Russia with a central station in Arkhangelsk. During numerous voyages of hydrographic ships in the Barents, Kara and Bering’s Seas the officers observed the weather, ice condition and the ocean level’s oscillations.
With direct participation and even thanks to hydrographers three arctic stations were created – Yugorsky Shar (1913), Vaygach and Marre-Sale (1914). There were the stations of new generation, one of which (Marre-Sale) is still working nowdays. The first hydrological observations were held in the year of 1914 by the radiomen of the Yugorsky Shar station. This helped the ship "Vasily the Great" successfully come to the shore and put off the luggage.
On April 22, 1916, during World War I, the Ministers Assembly subsidized the opening and service of the scientific station on Dixon Island. On August 18, 1916 (on September 1 according to the new style) there were held the first observations, which have been continued now. For a long time Dixon was a symbol of the Soviet polar station system.
In the observing program of the first polar stations the hydrological measurements were included in very limited extent. Once in 24 hours the temperature of waters was measured, ice cover with its changes (freezing-over, appearance of frazil, installation and destruction of landfloe and others) was described by visual observations. In the year of 1923 the hydrographic expedition of N.N. Matusevich founded the first Soviet polar station Matochkin Shar on the Novaya Zemlia (the head N.P. Knupfer, observers I.L. Rusinova, A.N. Zakhar’yevsky), the observations began in October the 6th. The hydrological extensive research activities began. The station was supplied with boats, that allowed observing the direction and speed of flows in the strait, to measure temperature and saltiness of deep waters. On the ice landfloe a limnigraph was installed for the first time. Soon Matochkin Shar’s station god a name of Geophysical polar observatory (existed till 1952).
Polar stations were also opened the Arctic navigation, including the successful Kara trade expeditions. In the year of 1926 in Novy Port a synoptical office, in Matochkin Shar – an ice-serving office were organized. Kara expedition of 1927 in Ob’-Yenissey region was served by 14 radiostations, the workers of which supplied the ships regularly with the information about ice conditions and oscillations of sea level. On the banks of Ob’ gulf full of sandbars, this information was extremely important for the sailors.
In the 1920-s, the net of polar stations was growing rather slowly: in 1926 G.A. Ushakov and doctor N.P. Savenko began the observations on Wrangel island, in 1928 – N.V. Pinegin and K.A. Tiron – on the Big Lyahovsky Island (Novosibirsky Islands), in 1929 – P. Ya. Illyashevich and G.A. Shashkovsky – on Franz Josef Land, in 1930 – G.A. Ushakov, N.N. Urvantzev and V.V. Khodov – on the Severnaya Zemlya, in 1931г. – Bionov and Bokov – on the Zhelaniya Cape, in 1932 – G.A. Shashkovsky, V.M. Bizin and V.G. Kanaki – in Uelen (Chukchi Peninsula). There practically weren’t any hydrologist–observers with a special education. Quite a small amount of ice observations very often made by meteorologists and radiomen’s was done.
The reason for more stations formation was the II IPY, which was suggested by the head of the German sea observatory in Hamburg, Dominic. The first sitting of the International committee of the polar year, formed in September 1929 was held in Leningrad. The committee under the supervision of A.F. Wangengeim (N.N. Zubov as a secretary) superintended the scientist research activiyties in the USSR during the IPY (1932 – 33). All in all 92 Soviet stations took part in the II IPY and 33 of them (including Cheluskin Cape, Rudolfa Island, Russkaya Gavan’, Severny cape et all.) were built especially for this aim. The scientific program worked out by the Soviet committee included a voyage of an icebreaker along the whole Northern Sea Route (the icebreaker "A. Sibiryakov", the head of expedition O. Yu. Shmidt, and the captain – V.I. Voronin). Organized according to the order of Soviet Government in December 17, 1932 Main management of Northern Sea Route (GUSMP) had to realize regular Arctic navigation successful transport operations in the Arctic, which had to be supplied with three main components – powerful ice-breaker navy, aviation and polar stations. That’s why in 1932 – 40 a modern polar station’s net was founded.
All the stations on the islands and shores of the Arctic Ocean, belonging before that to different organizations – the Arctic institute, Hydrographical management, Hydrometeorological committee and others – were attached to the GUSMP system.
For the guidance of scientific observations GUSMP’ Polar management (later the Management of Polar stations) was created. It was organized according to the order of GUSMP №16 from March 13, 1933. It dealt with all the questions concerning the work of the stations, which were founded in 1933 – 41 on the shores of the Arctic seas in amount of more than 50. All the observations were carefully controlled and estimated by the staff of the Arctic Research Institute, and were published later. During the period of navigation the polar station supplied the ships and planes of ice service with the important information about weather and ice condition. It was in possession of radiobond with them and took the bearings for determination of position of the ships in the sea.
The program of observations and the staff of the stations became more extent, and the researchers with special preparation- hydrographers, who made observations according to specially completed programs, were sent to the stations. The preparation of techniques-hydrologists was held in the hydrological courses in the All-Union Arctic institute (A-UAI), and in Leningrad hydro-meteorological technical secondary school. Hydrologists were sent to all the new organized stations, where the special ice posts for ice observations were being built. For each station the program of hydrological observations for every years was prepared by A-UAI, depending on some factors- the changes in the staff, plans of navigation, other exploration tasks, and so on. Besides measuring of temperature and saltiness of water near the shore, painting of seen ice-cover on special papers, observations of sea level 4 times a day, daily or every 10 days measures of ice layer, of observations hydrological profiles along the routes (usually in February-May) were included in the program. They were serious arrangements, and the whole station took part in the preparation of them. The hydrologists moved with the help of dog-vehicles, on foot, sometimes (on the biggest stations) aerosledges, tractors, land rovers, planes were used. In the year of 1936 the hydrologists from Cape Cheluskin B.I. Danilov, Yu.M. Bartashevich with the worker F.A. Nikolaev with the help of planes and dog-vehicles managed to do the first hydrological profile in Shokalsky’s Strait.
They made holes in ice cover, measuring the temperature, saltiness and transparency of water, the speed of flow. The length of hydrological section was about hundreds (Cheluskin cape-Island Starokadomskogo; Cheluskin cape-Geiberg Island-Severnaya Zemlya; Russky Island-Osten-Saken Cape et all.). The work was held under very heavy weather conditions, during blizzard in the very low temperatures in light tents often with lack of food, because scientific equipment and dog’s food were preferred. Sometimes the hydrologist’s dogteam drivers and workers god seriously frost bitten and they had to be taken out urgently. But the will of workers helped them to overcome all the difficulties.
For each important day in the country’s life – All-Union communist’s party of the Soviet Union, the All-union Leninist Young communist league of the Soviet Union congresses, I.V. Stalin’s birthday, just for proletarian holidays and important days – the 1st of May, the 8th of March, the Day of the Paris Commune, etc. the researches made presents in the form of additional observations. So the workers of Island Russian station as a present to the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of SU made the measuring of ice layer and the height of embacles on the perpendicular to the bank section.
The hydrologists working in the stations during the 1930-s became later in most cases the most eminent specialists in arctic hydrology and the founders of whole scientific aspects. At that time V.S. Antonov, N.A. Volkov, P.A. Gordienko, M.M. Somov, K.A. Sychev, A.G. Dralkin, the founders of ice aviation secret-service, the future heads of drifted stations of the "Northern Pole" and soviet Antarctic expeditions; N.T. Chernigovsky – one of the founders of arctic actinometry; B.A. Savel’ev – one of the notable explorers of natural ices, professor of MSU, and other famous scientists such as V.N. Koshkin, V.S. Nazarov, Yu.N. Deryugin, A.N. Zolotov, N.T. Subbotin, V.I. Reshetkin and many others were involved into researches activities in the Arctic.
Also, in the late 1930s there was the first increase of interest to hydrological work, caused, first of all, by the practical necessity. Safety of navigation developing on waterboodies, practically unknown before required at least minimal knowledge about the structure and dynamics of water masses and ices, flows and the relief of the sea bottom.
In 1941, mostly because of the operative meteorological and hydrological services of GUSMP regular navigation along the Northern Sea Route was successfully established. The role of polar stations in navigation and aviation functioning in the Arctic was very important then.
A serious trial for the winterers was World War II. The information about weather and ice condition became strategically important. Efficient and tactical planning often depended on it. The fleet and aviation needed it constantly. In March and further in 1942 the polar explorers, according to the decision of government were recalled from the fighting army. In the stations they were also like at the front. When the management ordered to find covers in case of attacks by submarines many stations simply didn’t manage to do it – seat islands were without any natural covers. Enemy’s submarines burned some stations, the winterers of Sterlegov’s cape were imprisoned. Many polar explorers lived in the Arctic practically the whole war without replacement and with rather poor supplement. The part of polar explorers in the Victory was highly regarded by the management of party and country. Many winterers got state rewards, many are rewarded with badges "The honorable polar explorer".
In year after the War the net of polar stations continued to increase and reached its flourishing in the 1950-s – the 1970-s, when it consisted of 100 – 105 stations. Creating and constant work of special educational establishments – Leningrad Arctic college (LAU), Moscow courses of polar researchers (KPR), Leningrad High Engineer-sea institute after Admiral S.O. Makarov (LVIMU), where the hydrologists were educated practically alone, helped to a noticeable increase of observations quality. In the middle of the 1950-s the graduates of MSU, Leningrad and other universities were sent to polar stations as the winterers. The USSR took part in the 1st International Geophysical year (I IGY) in 1957 – 1958, what especially helped in increase of observations and improvement of their quality.
The second half of the 1950s-1960s is the period of the second increase of the interest to the hydrological work. Engineers-hydrologists were sent to many stations specially prepared in LVIMU, where vast complex researches were conducted. Besides of hydrological and ice profiles, of the researches of twenty-four and twelve-hours stations, that had to be held in special time, were included in the program. Saltines and temperatures of water were measured, the patterns for areometration and titration were taken. The studies were held both in winter from ice and in summer from boats. The duties of hydrologists included the installation of summer and winter tide-gauges, limnigraph, and taking care of them. In connection with the difficult ice conditions for good functioning of the instruments the wonders of inventiveness had to be shown. The exploring of hydrological peculiarities of the places near stations was continued – the depths of lakes, bays, lagoon’s was measured. Batimethric maps made in that times are the most reliable and sometimes the only ones till the present day. In the program of observations of the stations in Marre-Sale, Islands Vize, Uedineniya the study of intensity of retreat of shores, which needed installation of some targets was included.
Noticeable improvement of observations quality in the stations increased the safety of navigation along the Northern Sea Route and flights in the Arctic very much. In the 1950s-1970s the net of the Soviet polar stations was one of the best in the world. Many of hydrologist-engineers, who worked in the polar stations in the 1950s-1960s had a very important role in the science. They are K.P. Shirokov, A.P. Zaitsev, V.A. Sovershaev, B.G. Imerekov and others.
But day by day, the hydrological researches became shorter and shorter, and up to the 1990-s the hydrologists-specialists remained in the staff either of the most big stations-observatories, or on so to say, basis stations, which had to observe sea level. The programs of other stations presupposed only regular (2 – 4 times in 24 hours) measuring of water temperatures and areometration, and also limited ice observations. Unfortunately, nowadays this unique net is in a very bad condition. The special education of staff practically stopped, about a half of stations were closed, on some of them you`ll find only 2 – 3 men, and in summer sometimes even 1 person works.
So, the hydrological observations of the polar stations is one of the most important source of yearly knowledge about condition and structure of ice cover of the Arctic seas, about the peculiarities of thermal and saltiness structure of waters, about flows and structure of bottom of many places of polar waterbodies. These facts received by work of generations of hydrologists`, form unique massif, the biggest part of which is not generalized enough.
The importance of observations of polar stations is especially important nowadays, when the humankind is seriously anxious about the problems, connected with global warming. And for efficient supplying of navigation and aeronavigation they are important till the present day. The net of polar stations was created by the efforts of the whole country during many decades of years, even during the war, and it was destroyed in counted years. Russian polar stations are the unique occurrence in the history of the exploring of high latitudes, the most important monuments of science, culture and technique, and their preservation is our duty not only for our descendants, but also for those, who gave them their health, youth, and all the strength of their soul and body. Not for nothing, near practically each station there are the tombs of winterers, who gave to their country everything, and even their life…
This exploration was held with the financial help of the Russian Fund of the fundamental researches (RFFI), grants №№99 – 06 – 80085 and 02 – 05 – 64935.
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