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Antarctica: Ready for winter

Research crews prepare Russia’s stations for Antarctic winter

Antarctica is key to understanding our world because it is so deeply interconnected with the Earth’s climate and oceans. Geological samples from this frozen continent provide insight into changes in climate over the past million years, allowing scientists to study global warming in a historical context.

Russia has been at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost two centuries. Since the First Russian Antarctic Expedition in 1820, led by F. F. Bellingshausen and M.P. Lazarev, its scientists have made significant contributions to investigating and especially mapping the Antarctic. From that time on, extensive research has been carried out, first by several Soviet and then Russian institutions, and the country now maintains five permanent southern polar stations.

The trouble is that, despite advances in modern transport, the only reliable means of reaching the world’s southernmost continent is by sea. The diesel-electric research vessel Akademik Fyodorov was almost made for the job. This time, the flagship of Russia’s polar research fleet is on a mission to visit two year-round Antarctic stations, Progress and Novolazarevskaya.

The Fyodorov, the only research ship able to reach Antarctica without an ice-breaker convoy, has been through thick and thin over the years and so has its crew! The most established member is 86-year-old Arnold Budretsky, a polar exploration pioneer. There was nothing but ice and stone before he and his fellow explorers first landed on that frozen desert. Arnold himself has been in charge of opening 10 Antarctic stations, and has accumulated an impressive reserve of knowledge and experience to pass on to the next generation of explorers.

Antarctica is notorious for its unpredictable weather and harsh climate and at sea, the explorers have only themselves to rely on, there are no other vessels for hundreds of miles and nothing but icebergs for company. Just getting to Antarctica takes 6 months, a challenge on its own.

There is much for newcomers to learn before settling in as a real part of this small crew: managing food storage, for example, and a curious way to keep eggs fresh! People from all walks of life are eager to embark on this voyage to experience the difficulties that life at the research station entails, which include 24-hour shifts.

The hardship makes Antarctica the ultimate survival test. This severe but beautiful environment can become almost addicting – so much so that, for many, it feels like home.

The Akademik Fyodorov services several Russian research stations in Antarctica, braving the threat of icebergs as it traverses hundreds of miles of open sea. Molodyozhnaya Station only operates during the continent’s brief summer, and the researchers there will board the Fyodorov for the long trip home. However, the adventure has only begun for the skeleton crews at the Progress and Novolazerevskaya Stations, which will be responsibe for maintaining everything during the long, dark winter without additional supplies. 

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