A comprehensive joint research expedition of the RGS and the Northern Fleet to the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago has begun. The expedition participants will visit not only Severnaya Zemlya, but also the archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya. The expedition will last until mid-October.
The expedition started from the village of Mishukovo in the Murmansk Region on the vessel "Romuald Muklevich" of the Hydrographic Service of the Northern Fleet. It is dedicated to four anniversaries at once: the 290th anniversary of the Northern Fleet, the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Franz Josef Land, the 110th anniversary of the discovery of Severnaya Zemlya, and the 100th anniversary of the Northern Geographical Expedition.
Research teams formed from representatives of the Northern Fleet and the Russian Geographical Society have been assigned an extensive range of scientific and research tasks. Head scientist of the expedition, Head of the Department of the Hydrographic Service of the Northern Fleet, Captain 1st rank Aleksey Kornis explains:
“To replenish the oceanographic data banks, it is necessary to study the hydrological regime of the Laptev, Barents, and Kara Seas; it is planned to survey the bottom relief in poorly explored areas of the Arctic archipelagos. It is necessary to solve a number of tasks related to the study of the fields of the World Ocean to study the fields of the distribution of the speed of sound in seawater, to study temperature, salinity, depths, as well as a number of other parameters along the transit route and in designated areas.”
The participants of the expedition will also collect information to update the navigation maps. If the information on the maps becomes outdated (for example, the lighthouse has ceased to exist or the coastline has changed), this can cause the navigator to make incorrect management decisions, which can have dire consequences. Of course, there are satellite images. You can understand a lot from them, but not everything. Each image is always subjected to a process of simple or complex decryption, the data obtained in this way then, as cartographers say, "are put on the map." This information has a strictly defined direction. From space, you can see haulouts of walruses – for the navigator this knowledge is secondary, but the revealed navigational landmark is the opposite.
“A picture is an important part of the cartographer's work, but it is not a panacea," notes Aleksey Kornis. “The identified characteristic point on the surface can be well seen from space, but for a navigator who evaluates the world not vertically, but horizontally, it may not always be so. Disembarking or exploring the coast from a ship allows you to organize satellite information according to the degree of importance – the map should not be overloaded, but features that are significant to the user cannot be overlooked. Sometimes you need to ‘touch’ the found object, see it with your own eyes, in order to come to a balanced conclusion, not a rushed one.”
Also, during the expedition, oceanographic equipment developed by domestic manufacturers will be tested, the signals of radio navigation and satellite systems in the waters of the Northern Sea Route will be studied.
“On the one hand, such studies are conducted to understand how well this system works, to assess the correspondence of the reference signal to the actual one, and on the other hand, to assess its spatial and temporal coverage," explains Aleksey Kornis. “Simply put, to identify areas of strong and weak signal reception depending on geographical location, for example, in different parts of the Northern Sea Route, and time parameters: time of day or season. This information is then generalized and brought to sailors.”
It is planned to conduct a survey of places associated with the discoverers – the Hydrographic Expedition of the Arctic Ocean, explorers of Severnaya Zemlya Nikolai Urvantsev and Georgy Ushakov, as well as the Austro-Hungarian expedition on the ship "Tegetthoff". During the expedition, search operations will be carried out. In the waters of the Barents and Kara Seas, the researchers will try to find ships sunk during the Great Patriotic War, the exact location of which has not yet been established: the patrol ship "Brilliant", minesweepers T-120, T-911, T-896, transports "Kuibyshev", "Dixon", "Arkhangelsk", "Sergey Kirov", as well as four vessels of convoy PQ-17: "Olopana", "Hartelbury", "John Witherspoon", "Alcoa Ranger".
The expedition involves a film crew led by documentary filmmaker, traveler, researcher Leonid Kruglov, whose goal is to create the final part of a story about the history of the discovery of the Russian Arctic archipelagos.
“For me, the main task is to get to Severnaya Zemlya, that we’d tried to reach several times as part of different expeditions, but because of the difficult ice situation, we could not land on it once," says Leonid Kruglov. “At the moment, expeditions have been conducted and all the archipelagos of the Arctic have been filmed. Severnaya Zemlya remained, the discovery of which was the last great geographical discovery in the world. This archipelago has always been inaccessible, closed by ice fields. We have to overcome many difficulties. I hope that we succeed, and thus, in our documentary ‘To the Arctic’, which will be released on wide screens in February 2024, we put the matter to rest.”
The vessel "Romuald Muklevich", on which the researchers went on an expedition, was accepted into the Navy in 1991. This period was not the best for both the hydrographic service and the country as a whole, so it could be seen as "put aside" for a long time. They even joked about the ship that it was a "floating hotel".
But, according to Aleksey Kornis, everything changed after the repair and modernization at the Kronstadt Marine Plant. The vessel has significantly increased its research capabilities, and therefore trips have become for it not an exception to the rules, but a regular job. That is why the “Romuald Muklevich” became one of the main participants of the complex expedition of the Northern Fleet and the Russian Geographical Society "Remember the War". Using its technical means, sunken British ships were found: the destroyer "Matabele" and the corvette "Bluebell", the patrol ship "Passat", the recently lost trawler "Onega", and more than a dozen ships and vessels that have yet to be identified.
The situation in the Arctic is largely determined by the boundaries of the ice distribution. Sometimes, the entire Northern Sea Route is absolutely free of ice, and then even a modest yacht can pass through it from Murmansk to Providence Bay completely freely. For example, such favorable conditions were in 2012-2015, 2019, and 2020.
“Unfortunately, satellite images currently show that, for example, the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago is almost completely surrounded by ice, so a non-ice-class vessel, namely the ‘Romuald Muklevich’, simply has no way to break into some places of interest to us," Aleksey Kornis shares. “However, we still hope that the winds blow in the directions we need and the situation changes. If everything turns out as planned, we will have interesting results both for geography and history.”