First Stage Of Complex Expedition To Franz Josef Land Archipelago Completed

Земля Франца-Иосифа — самый северный архипелаг России. Фото: Руслан Жостков

The first stage of the RGS’s complex expedition to the island of Alexandra Land of the Franz Josef Land archipelago is part of a long-term program of the Russian Geographical Society and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation to study our country, in particular the Arctic region. Our story is about the research conducted by the scientists during the expedition.

The expedition of the Russian Geographical Society to Franz Josef Land in 2023 was a continuation of the research carried out on the archipelago in 2021, when geological and geomorphological studies were combined with monitoring of biodiversity – counting polar bears.

“Then a group of scientists worked in 10 research areas,” says the head of the expedition and the expeditionary direction of the Department of Expeditionary and Tourism Development of the Russian Geographical Society Sergey Chechulin. “After analyzing their reports, we realized that the research in the field of seismology and oceanology is most promising in this region.”

We would like to remind you that this year the expedition started on May 15. The expedition members got to the island of Alexandra Land by plane from Severomorsk. The research team consisted of specialists from the Russian Geographical Society and Russian Arctic National Park, scientists from the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth, the Pushkov Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radio Wave Propagation (IZMIRAN), and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI).


Участники экспедиции на острове Земля Александры архипелага Земля Франца-Иосифа. Фото предоставлено участниками экспедиции

According to the lead scientist of the expedition, senior researcher at the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth Ruslan Zhostkov, although it is believed that the Arctic is a calm region when it comes to seismic activity, joint expeditions of the Russian Geographical Society, the Northern Fleet, and the Russian Academy of Sciences showed the presence of traces of ancient earthquakes in the Western and Eastern Taimyr, Wrangel Island, Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land. If strong seismic processes have occurred in the past, it is likely that they will in the future. The scientists on the island of Alexandra Land conducted fundamental research in the field of seismotectonics. With the help of broadband seismic stations, they studied deep structures, and ground-penetrating radar profiling allowed to study several upper tens of meters of the earth's surface. Aerial photography was performed to understand the terrain features, and a seismic microgroup was used to determine local seismicity. The scientists conducted a number of additional studies in the field of fundamental sciences, for example, seismic experiments on an ice plate. The research was carried out using the technology of monitoring the marine environment and the seabed using sensors placed on ice, developed at the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth.

“ It's too early to talk about any results,” says Ruslan Zhostkov. “We were able to collect quite a large amount of experimental data, which we will process and study in order to understand how strong earthquakes can occur in the Arctic. The main thing is not that we give any answers, but that we raise questions, because the Arctic, as it turned out, is not exactly the way we are used to seing it. It should be studied, cooperation between the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Geographical Society should be developed, more expeditions should be sent so that they have enough equipment and last for a long time”.

The polar research station "Omega" on the territory of Russian Arctic National Park was a shelter and a base for the work of the expedition members on the island. In Soviet times, scientific research in various fields was constantly conducted there. The scientists hope that active research activity at it will be revived.

There were some difficulties during the expedition. To install sensors on the ground, the experts fought their way through the high snow cover. Due to the abundance of snow, it was possible to move only with the help of special equipment. But it was not safe to go out on the ice on it, so the researchers had to get to the place of work on foot, carrying heavy equipment in backpacks.

“For us it's not just a job, it's something that interests us, something that inspires us,” explains Ruslan Zhostkov. “We are ready to take decisive steps and fight difficulties to get results.

Anna Timofeeva, a researcher at the Department of Ice Regime and Forecasts of AARI, conducted an ice survey on the fast ice. She collected ice samples and studied the physical properties of ice cores, measured salinity and temperature, took samples from their lower part to estimate the amount of chlorophyll.

In the future, the scientists plan to carry out a wide range of studies, starting with hydrobiology and ending with the study of some parameters of the atmosphere for radio communication. According to Sergey Chechulin, the RGS is an integrator that consolidates the efforts of all researchers.

One of the tasks of the expedition is to issue recommendations on possible ways and forms of economic activity in the Arctic region. Minerals are being actively mined in the Arctic, research stations are being installed, and work is being carried out to strengthen the defense capability. Those who explore the Arctic should have all the data about its seismic hazards, passability, what processes associated with the melting of glaciers are possible, etc.

“Our task is to make sure that state bodies or economic entities that conduct their activities in the Arctic rely on a structured comprehensive scientific base throughout the region,” adds Sergey Chechulin. “In summer or early autumn, we will organize a second expedition and conduct those studies that cannot be carried out in winter for objective reasons. This is a comprehensive program, we expect that the RGS and the Ministry of Defense will spend decades studying the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation, which will result in comprehensive proposals on the possibility of using the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation for the benefit of the country. If the Northern Fleet helps us, we plan to install stationary seismic stations in the eastern sector of the Arctic. First on the De Long Islands, then on Alexandra Land, and then we will move along the mainland. Our goal is constant monitoring. We are not conducting research for ourselves or any specific institutions, we are conducting it for the country and we want this data to help people – in particular, in the Arctic as the least studied region.”