Press release

German research vessel Polarstern discovers abandoned Russian station on ice floe

[20. August 2004] 

On August 16, 2004 early in the morning the German research vessel RV Polarstern discovered the remains of the abandoned Russian drifting ice camp North Pole-32 on an ice floe. The position of the floe was 82°16`N – 004°21`W. Three more or less intact barracks (one with antenna), one tent, two damaged barracks, two tractors, three larger fuel depots with about 300 drums, sleeping bags, nets and other material were found. In one of the barracks a calendar was found with the last entry date March 6, 2004. Two thirds of the drums were empty. Ninety percent of the full drums contained diesel, the rest contained remains of petrol, oil and kerosene.

RV Polarstern is currently on her voyage ARK XX/2 performing measurements in atmosphere, sea ice and ocean and collecting rock samples of the mid-ocean ridge system. After careful consideration of all circumstances, contacts with Antarctic and Arctic Research Institute (AARI) in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in view of possible harmful environmental effects if nothing would be done, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar- and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, granted permission to the request of the RV Polarstern to interrupt its research programme and advised the master to take immediate action for removal of harmful remains. Because the station is presently in or close to Greenland waters, officials in Greenland were informed immediately.

The operation started on August 18 at 0612 GMT. Navigation to the floe was hampered by dense fog in the morning. After lifting of the fog at noon, POLARSTERN went along-side the ice floe and scientists and crew members were set out. Material was picked up and loaded on board by helicopter. The activities were focussed first on the recovery of 304 fuel drums. Then debris scattered about the floe was collected, and finally two tractors were taken aboard by crane. The local operation was completed on August 19 at 0100 GMT. All environmentally harmful material could be removed. Only remains of barracks being stuck in re-frozen melt ponds were left on the ice floe. This action of RV Polarstern has set the final chapter in the history of the drifting research station North Pole-32. After 24 hours, Polarstern continued with the research programme some 20 nautical miles west of the NP-32 ice floe.

At the end of April 2003 the world’s only Arctic station on an ice floe, North Pole-32, was established by the Expedition Centre for Arctic and Antarctica in Moscow, while the AARI was responsible for the research programme. On March 04, 2004 the drifting station got in distress at sea, about 150 km away from the North Pole. Ice started breaking off and pack ice shoved over the flow, pressing it under water. Sixteen barracks and containers disappeared in the sea, while twelve men and two dogs waited for help. They were rescued on March 06, 2004 by a Mi-8 helicopter, but most of their equipment had to be abandoned and remained on the ice floe. Two months before the planned dismantling of the ice camp the research programme was ended, after working successfully for ten months.

The removal of the Russian ice camp shows how important logistic capabilities of research icebreakers are for taking immediate and efficient response in the case of unusual events and emergencies. RV Polarstern is a powerful research- and supply icebreaker. Her high standard technical equipment, as well as the allocation of helicopters on board have again proved to be of great value. Furthermore, this successful operation clearly emphasizes the need for international assistance and coordination. Also the operation of ships with high-tech scientific equipment, as well as capabilities for supply and disposal operations under complicated conditions are of great importance.

The AARI and the Alfred Wegener Institute have been collaborating successfully for many years in the field of research and logistics in both the Arctic and Antarctic. This includes organization of joint research expeditions in the Arctic Ocean, in the Siberian Arctic and the collaboration in the international Project Dronning Maud Land Air Network (DROMLAN) in the Antarctic. The successful removal of the abandoned drifting station NP-32 is a further milestone within this cooperation.

Bremerhaven, August 20, 2004

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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.