Libmonster ID: TR-861
Author(s) of the publication: Vyacheslav MARKIN

The new popular science book by Yevgeny Singer Spitsbergen - Ice Archipelago (Penta, M., 2006) is now a part of a large library of works written by the explorers of the Arctic and Antarctic (Julius Payer, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen, Georgi Ushakov, etc.).

It comprises fifteen chapters about research work carried out by Russia's glaciologists and contains detailed descriptions of nature, history of discovery and studies of the archipelago performed by scientists from different countries.

Among these countries Russia occupies one of the leading positions, including discovery and exploration of the northernmost coal fields on the Earth.

Their development has been conducted by our state trust Arktikugol together with Norwegian companies for the last 75 years.

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The book starts with a foreword of Academician Vladimir Kotlyakov, Director of the RAS Institute of Geography. He expresses gratitude to Singer, "the oldest acting explorer of Arctic Regions", participant of numerous expeditions, coauthor of four scientific monographs and author of seven science fiction books, "for his valuable contribution to the library of polar literature".

From among the large number of expeditions arranged by the RAS Institute of Geography for 70 years of its existence, the Spitsbergen glaciological expedition organized in 1965 under the assistance of the Academician Grigory Avsyuk was the longest. It has been running to the present day with short intervals, each field season, headed by Yevgeny Singer. Way back during the Great Patriotic War he worked in the Arctic Regions as a radio operator at a polar station and later on the ice-breaker. Then Singer took part in research works carried out under the program of the International Year of Geophysics (1957 - 1959) on glaciers of Novaya Zemlya, Pamir uplands, and starting from 1965 "settled down for good" on Spitsbergen.

It was then that on one of the June days, the Sestroretsk passenger and cargo motor ship of the Murmansk Marine Steamship Company moored to the Barentsburg settlement on the bank of the Grenfjord Bay. It carried a group of miners and five glaciologists from the Moscow Institute of Geography. They went down the ladder to the land of the archipelago, which had been discovered and explored almost four centuries before them by their compatriots - Pomors of the White Sea coast, who called themselves the Grumanlans and named the land - Grumant.

Russians founded the first scientific station on Spitsbergen in the 1760s. The program of observations was developed by a great natural scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, Academician from 1742, whose name was immortalized at the turn of the 19th century on one of the plateaus of the central part of the biggest island by participants of the Russo-Swedish expedition aimed to measure the degree of the meridian's arc in the polar zone of the Earth* in order to create an accurate model of the planet-flat at the poles - as it had been supposed by Newton. Later, in different times, there worked small expeditions of Soviet geologists; there was a hydrometeorological station in Barentsburg, and geobotanics, pedologists, ecologists, and even astronomers worked there. But before 1965 it had never been visited by any national glaciological expedition. That is why the name of the first chapter of Singer's book is absolutely rightful-"Soviet Glaciologists Open Up Spitsbergen". It contains basic scientific data on all types of natural ice and glaciers, occupying 16 mln km2 of the Earth (11 percent of the total land area). It is 30 mln km3 of fresh water (highly-valued resource of the mankind). If this ice covers the whole surface of the planet, its thickness will make up 60 m, and if heated up, the World Ocean's level will rise and drown more than 15 mln km2 of coastal territories.

See: Ye Singer, "Feat in the Arctic", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1999. - Ed.

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Spitsbergen (or Svalbard, as Norwegians call it starting from 1969 with the habitual name used only for the largest island-earlier, Eastern Spitsbergen) occupies a special place on the glaciation map of the Earth. It is located between the Greenland and Barents Seas, rounded by branches of a powerful warm North Atlantic current weakened by cold Arctic waters, but cyclones bring here abundant snowfall and feed glaciers. Considerably less snow (twice as little) falls on the eastern "neighbor" of Svalbard - Franz Josef Land. According to Singer, "there is no such other place in the Arctic as Spitsbergen, where such a great volume of information on glacier fluctuations has been accumulated". Its territory is twice as large as the territory of Belgium, 59 percent of its surface is covered by ice of up to 300 - 400 m thick. Some of the glaciers regularly accelerate their movement and advance tens of kilometers. Thus, in the 1930s the edge of the Syorfonn ice cap on the North East Land island suddenly moved to the sea by 21 km, and its surface area increased by 500 m. And it is far from being an exception.

...Five glaciologists were impressed by a grand meeting in the port of Barentsburg. Of course, they realized that it was organized not for them personally, but for a new group of miners, who arrived on board the Sestroretsk, and that they could do nothing without assistance of the Arktikugol administration. Thanks to extraordinary organizational abilities of Singer, they managed to establish favorable relations with both Russian and Norwegian "authorities" and rank-and-file employees. This was of remarkable importance for successful scientific research works.

Moscow glaciologists started their work with a snow-measuring survey on the Nordenskiold glacier not far from the miners' settlement Piramida, then the helicopter took them to the center of the ice desert of the Land of King Olaf V, specified on the map as Lomonosovfonna (the above-mentioned Lomonosov Plateau). In June 1965 the group helped to "arrange" a dwelling on the ice-an arctic tent that successfully passed tests on the Northern Pole drifting stations. Having completed work in the upper part of the Nordensheld glacier, glaciologists Leonid Troitsky, Vladislav Koryakin and Vladimir Mikhalyov went down to the valley to estimate snow reserves there. Two of them remained on the Lomonosov Plateau - Yevgeny Singer himself and the author of this article. We had to stay in the "ice camp" around two months at a height of 1,000 m above sea level to collect data on meteorological conditions on the top of this sheet, estimate snow reserves on all slopes of the dome-shaped coating, follow up snow melting process (it would remain on the top till the next winter, but its surface would significantly diminish and a lot of melted water would recede into the depth enriching the ice mass).

The most difficult thing was to dig a deep well - pit - in the snow and underlying firn (frozen crystallized snow gradually transforming into a stone-rigid ice). On its walls we studied layers of snow and firn, measured temperature at different depths. On the bottom of the well (15 m deep) we had to drill one more deep hole, then penetrate deep into the ice cover. It was done using a hand drill by another shift of our colleagues. Time would pass and the same expedition would bore through the ice cover to its bottom using a more efficient equipment, and then penetrate into innermost layers using radar installed on board the helicopter.

But those who started this work did everything "manually", which set wondering (and marvelling) foreign colleagues. Norwegians from the Oslo Polar Institute had been surveying glaciers for a long time, but they were astonished by the volume of work performed by five specialists from Russia for the first two field seasons.

Singer's book making up 300 pages describes the glaciological expedition, which lasted for many years, and tells about ancient and modern history of the archipelago, contemporary life of our compatriots, who are engaged in economic activity there in accordance with the international treaty the Soviet Union entered in 1935. The author writes about those who helped scientists-miners, seamen, helicopter pilots-with great warmth.

The book contains diverse information on Spitsbergen in addition to the detailed description of scientific activity of glaciologists and their results.

According to Icelandic sagas, the "Cold-Coast" was discovered by Vikings in the 12th century, which is a rather questionable fact. Location of this land is indicated rather vaguely (most probably, the northern part of Greenland is meant); and what is more important, no traces of Scandinavians living there in those ancient times are found. Thanks to the efforts of the expedition of the USSR AS Institute of Ethnology and Archeology named after Miklukho-Maklai, headed by the professor Vadim Starkov, working there for more than 20 years, there have been found the ruins of numerous settlements of Russian Pomors with burial grounds and Orthodox crosses on graves, with different trade and household items*. They sailed up to Spitsbergen every year and usually stayed there till winter. Our specialists dated their buildings: the oldest ones belong to the last decade of the 16th century; the first pomors apparently started to settle on Spitsbergen before the archipelago was discovered by the Dutch explorer Willem Barents on June 19, 1596.

The author visited many historic places there. In the book he "animates" the legendary Dutch Smerenburg (Vorvangrad) on the Amsterdam Island (northwest of Spitsbergen), where in the 17th century production of blubber (vorvan) was organized on the base of the local fishing industry. We all know about a unique "whale war" between Holland and England for the right to hunt for these mammals. In the second half of the 18th century, in place of Smerenburg there sprang up one of the major Russian settlements each year visited by a vessel from Arkhangelsk (100 tons of displacement), which delivered there a shift of winterers, food, fishing equipment and took to the Mainland commercial items: whale, walrus and seal fat, skins of sea animals and polar foxes, "fish tooth" (tusks

* See: V. Starkov, "Glimpses of Pomorye Sailboats", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2000. - Ed.

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of walruses and narwhals). Singer frequently visited the Cape of Starostin near the inlet to the Isfjord Bay, running into the central part of the Spitsbergen Island for hundreds of kilometers. The cape was named by a Swedish polar researcher Niels Nordenskiold (foreign corresponding member of the St. Petersburg AS from 1879) in commemoration of a legendary Russian Pomor Ivan Starostin, who had been living there for more than 30 years.

Each polar field season Moscow glaciologists explored new glaciation zones. In the season of 1966, a group of five men landed in the north-western part of the archipelago - Holtedahifonna, the next year - on the neighboring Isaxen Plateau. At the same time their French colleagues, headed by Jacques Corbel, carried out observations there from July 14. Later on, Russian scientists set contacts with the British expedition of Cambridge University, with Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, and even Japanese glaciologists.

Results of surveys performed in the course of three field seasons were collected in a joint monograph Glaciation of Spitsbergen (Svalbard), published in 1975. It is the first circumstantial scientific work on the glaciology of the archipelago in world literature. When it appeared, it became clear that it was far from being complete and that the secrets of its glaciers had been revealed only partially. It was decided to continue field works on a higher level using new technical resources. In fact, the results of our expedition in the 1960s were achieved due to great physical efforts. The helicopter delivered the group to the site only, while all other routes were pedestrian: glaciologists harnessed themselves to sledge straps and dragged tents, food, a primus stove with fuel, and shovels to dig pits in the snow, picks to cut out ice, hand drills with metal rods, gages, theodolite to measure the speed of glaciers' movement, etc. Sometimes they had to turn into seamen and steer a boat, while moving towards glaciers by sea.

The second phase of the expedition started in 1974. This time they were lucky to sail to Spitsbergen on board the diesel ship Ob, the famous national flagship of the Antarctic fleet. Meanwhile Barentsburg had greatly changed. In place of wooden houses there were built stone constructions on high piles resembling fortresses, a new Palace of Culture with a spacious audience hall, library, gymnasium, and a swimming pool with warm water from the fjord...

By that time glaciology was enriched with new achievements in geophysics, geochemistry, and what is more important, information from satellites. The expedition included geophysicist Yuri Macheret. He took radar apparatus to the expedition: it was not yet adapted to perform surveys from the helicopter, and initially it was used on land for radiosounding of glaciers Grenfjord and Fritjof, linked by the upper reaches in the common accumulation zone. They had already been studied by Russian specialists "manually". And once again glaciologists harnessed themselves to sledges on mountain skis and in one go realized that it was very difficult to carry new equipment: sledges with boxes of devices, accumulators, spare parts, gasoline engine, radar antenna were heavier than before. Nevertheless, the surveys were successfully completed. However, the next year they managed to look into the depth of glaciers from bird's-eye view. Upon authorization of the Moscow Design Bureau of Mikhail Mil, the radar station which had been specially produced at the Mari Polytechnical Institute (Ioshkar-Ola) was set up on a Mi-4 helicopter and connected to the onboard power battery. The heavy antenna was installed under the fuselage. "Now, -writes Singer, -the radar station looked absolutely different: more reliable, powerful, and beautiful! It was no longer five glaciological powers, but many hundreds of horse-powers "harnessed" to a powerful engine that would carry a new unique radar station over the glaciers".

However, there sprang up another difficulty: for radar surveys from helicopter flying weather was necessary, but that is very rare for Spitsbergen. Usually it is overcast. Flight speed while performing surveys was rather low, which was fraught with a significant risk. The book describes an accident, that happened at the end of the field season of 1976.

At that time during an unsuccessful turn over the Hans glacier, going down from the Amundsen Plateau to the Hornsunn Bay, the helicopter suddenly failed to hold out in the air and started falling on the glacier. It hit the ground with a tail boom and its fore wheels were caught in a narrow fracture. The helicopter rolled over, its turbines sucked in snow and instantly died away, which prevented an explosion and fire. Snow cover saved the people, although they did not manage to avoid serious injuries. Yuri Macheret, head of the scientific program, had been injured most seriously: he was successfully operated on in the Barentsburg hospital.

Radiosounding of the Spitsbergen archipelago glaciers gave remarkable results. It turned out that on the southwestern coast there is a multikilometer barrier consisting of two glaciers to the north from the Hornsunn Bay, closed up by the third one in the north. The radar helped to determine the surprising ice thickness for this area - 430 м. Besides, glacier beds are below the current sea level. It means that if the glaciers melt, there will form new gulfs and, may be, a strait. But the thickest ice (586 m) was uncovered in the course of drilling at the Amundsen Plateau - it was performed by Russian glaciologists together with Polish colleagues from Warsaw and Torun.

If you look at the map, you will see: the biggest glaciers are located on the northernmost island of the archipelago- North-East Land. Naturally, members of our expedition were eager to conduct surveys on that very island. In 1981, the expedition changed its camping place; the number of participants exceeded 20. A glaciological station was built at the Westfonn dome. It took more than a month to deliver goods there due to the constantly deteriorating weather. Then, the glaciologists carried out a series of works, which included in-depth ice drilling to extract drill core samples for isotopic analysis. Such works were con-

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ducted on Spitsbergen for the first time. The success of this operation was guaranteed due to the use of a new technology-quick and convenient thermal drilling-developed by the engineer Valentin Morev at the Arctic and Antarctic Research and Development Institute (Leningrad); Viktor Zagorodnov, student of the Moscow Energy Institute, designed and made a hoist, the control unit. It was he who was assigned to carry out an appropriate operation. The drill equipped with an electric heating headring quickly thawed out the ice that filled the pipe forming the core, which is, in fact, a "chronicle" of climate for millennia. There were drilled eight wells at Westfonn, the deepest one was 208 m. The "bottom" of the glacier, formed by a sub-glacial elevation, was not as deep as it was supposed.

The biggest ice mass is probably concentrated in the southern part of Spitsbergen. According to the estimates of the expeditions, the total volume of ice on the archipelago makes up 7,500 km3. "Is it much or not?" - Singer asks. "If compared with the ice cover of Antarctica or Greenland - a drop in the ocean". Then he adds: "The reserves of water accumulated in the glaciers of Spitsbergen exceed an annual flow of the longest and most affluent river in Europe - Volga - approximately 40 times". Naturally, the fate of the Spitsbergen glaciation attracts a serious interest of science.

Yevgeny Singer's expedition intrigued the world scientific community. For example, in the summer of 1994, the famous Japanese glaciologist Okidzuto Vatanabe arrived in Barentsburg and offered Singer to cooperate on one of the ice caps of the North-East Land. In the 1990s, the expedition initiated a new phase of research works within the framework of the international project "Changes of Geometry and Balance of the Mass of Major Centers of Spitsbergen Glaciation". The trilateral cooperation agreement was signed by the RAS Institute of Geography, Silesia University (Poland), and Norwegian Polar Institute. The primary purpose is to determine regularities and mechanisms of changes of climate and natural environment in the Arctic, global and regional, on the basis of studies of the regime and dynamics of polar ice covers. Contemporary survey methods tested by the expedition of the RAS Institute of Geography have been described by Singer in detail.

But, first of all, the book will draw attention from the people whose hard and dangerous work is described in it on the example of a unique glaciological expedition.


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Vyacheslav MARKIN, INTO HISTORY THROUGH ICE // Istanbul: Republic of Türkiye (ELIBRARY.COM.TR). Updated: 27.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 21.07.2024).

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