RGS 2023: What We’ll Remember About The Outgoing Year

Photo: RGS press service
Photo: RGS press service

In the last days of the year, we traditionally remember its most significant events. It's not an easy matter. The Russian Geographical Society consists of people, ideas, routes, projects, and discoveries. You can't tell about it all. Nevertheless, we have selected several outstanding episodes and eloquent facts that we will definitely associate with 2023.

We Collectively Monitor Nature

In recent years, the Russian Geographical Society has become a platform for those who want and can express themselves in our projects related to science, ecology, and tourism.

For example, for many years the RGS has been conducting phenological observations within the framework of the program, which now bears the name "Okruzhayushchiy Mir" (eng. “The World Around Us”). It is always interesting to follow natural phenomena, and especially in such a huge and diverse country as Russia.

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Photo: Anna Jurgenson/RGS press service
Photo: Anna Jurgenson/RGS press service

Phenological observations are the simplest and at the same time a full-fledged way to participate in genuine science. It is no coincidence that many observations made within the framework of our phenological project later become part of large scientific studies. So, by recording, for example, the date of the return of migratory birds in spring or the flowering of forest plants, we contribute to the study of the nature of Russia. Given global climate change, such seemingly simple facts can be of great importance.

To date, a record number of participants have been involved in the phenological observation program: more than 11,000 people across the country have been registered on the project's website.

The Arctic Will Be Clean

Volunteers help not only to observe nature, but also to take care of the environment. Even in the Arctic.

For 10 years, the RGS, together with the Russian Ministry of Defense, has been cleaning up the polar territories. There was an era when people didn't really think about the fact that an abandoned fuel barrel or the skeleton of an old truck could become a problem. But over time, there were too many traces of former activities, and they turned into hundreds of tons of garbage. In addition, the realization came that no matter is trivial even when solving grandiose important issues. Especially in the Arctic, which, for all its severity, is still a rather fragile ecosystem.

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Joint clean-up of the shore by RGS volunteers. Photo: RGS’s press service
Joint clean-up of the shore by RGS volunteers. Photo: RGS’s press service

In the past year, RGS volunteers helped clean up the polar island of Kildin and the famous village of Khatanga, which is also called the gateway to the North Pole.

By the way, applications for the Arctic Volunteer Project in 2024 are already open.

Where You Can't Buy a Ticket to

By the way, the Arctic has become an interesting tourist destination in recent years. And the Russian Geographical Society has its own tours – of course, with a twist.

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Scientists together with travelers at work. Photo: Daria Zaretskaya
Scientists together with travelers at work. Photo: Daria Zaretskaya

In 2023, for the first time, we offered almost everyone to join the full-time members of our expeditions and become not just tourists, but also to some extent researchers. Almost everyone can visit a real RGS expedition and get to a place where ordinary tourists are not allowed to enter. For example, to Franz Josef Land. You can't just buy a ticket to this archipelago and fly on vacation. But you can come with us!

In the Jungles of India

Expeditions are one of the key activities of the Russian Geographical Society. The geography and subject matter of our research projects are becoming wider.

In January 2023, the science camp “Seven Sisters” successfully wrapped up work in a little-studied region of India. For two weeks, our ethnographers and biologists explored the northeastern states of the country: Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh. And another group of researchers made their way through the impenetrable jungle visiting the crash sites of military aircraft of the US and British Army Air Forces from 1943-1945.

Interestingly, it was Russian researchers who decided to pay tribute to our Western allies at that time, who once participated in the common battle against German Nazism and Japanese militarism.

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The nudibranch Diaphoreolis zvezda. Photo: Tatiana Korshunova and Alexander Martynov
The nudibranch Diaphoreolis zvezda. Photo: Tatiana Korshunova and Alexander Martynov

Requiem for the “Perseus”

Perhaps the discovery of the remains of the “Perseus” at the bottom of the Barents Sea by the specialists from the RGS and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation was the find of the year. This is a truly legendary scientific research vessel, sung of in poetry and hymns, the first of its kind in Russian history. The “Perseus” sailed the expanses of the Arctic Ocean, was a school for several generations of polar and marine explorers, and sank heroically at the very beginning of the Great Patriotic War.

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The “Perseus” research vessel. Photo: VNIRO Archive
The “Perseus” research vessel. Photo: VNIRO Archive

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The image of the remains of the “Perseus” vessel, obtained as a result of scanning the seabed. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition
The image of the remains of the “Perseus” vessel, obtained as a result of scanning the seabed. Photo provided by the participants of the expedition

Kuril “Zvezda”

Last year, marine biologists Alexander Martynov and Tatyana Korshunova made another discovery during the expedition of the Russian Geographical Society "Eastern Bastion: The Kuril Ridge".

The nudibranch they discovered differs from the known ones, it is very beautiful, transparent red. The outgrowths on his body are dotted with small white dots resembling constellations. Further study confirmed the scientists' guess: the specimen turned out to be a new, previously unknown species. Due to its appearance, it has now received an official name: "zvezda" (eng. “star”) (Diaphoreolis zvezda).

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The nudibranch Diaphoreolis zvezda. Photo: Tatiana Korshunova and Alexander Martynov
The nudibranch Diaphoreolis zvezda. Photo: Tatiana Korshunova and Alexander Martynov

The Climate is Changing. What Does Science Say?

We often complain about the surprises that the weather presents: either prolonged rains, droughts, or abnormal frosts. Moreover, they do not arise where they are usually expected. As it turns out, our everyday observations are not far from the truth. The planet is getting warmer, and there is a climatic "tremor" – this is what scientists call the state of weather instability.

Several scientific studies at once, conducted with the support of the Russian Geographical Society, are devoted to this problem.

Investigating dangerous natural phenomena in the south of Siberia, scientists found out that their cause was atypical weather manifestations, which not only increased, but their very nature changed.

Meteorologists have known for a long time that large megacities such as Moscow are islands of warmth. Meanwhile, even a small village or highway can also be islands of warmth, and this fact has now been recorded instrumentally.

Glaciologists have collected ancient images of glaciers and compared them with modern full-scale and satellite images. Even a child can spot the difference. Glaciers, as scientists say, are the most sensitive indicators of climate change.

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Photo: Anastasia Mazureva, participant of the RGO contest "The most beautiful country"
Photo: Anastasia Mazureva, participant of the RGO contest "The most beautiful country"

A New Island in the Arctic

Who said that the era of geographical discoveries is a thing of the past? The melting of glaciers in the Arctic even leads to the formation of new islands.

One of them was recently discovered during the joint expedition of the Russian Geographical Society and the Northern Fleet "Remember the War" in the area of Zayachaya Bay in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. The glacier that descended into the sea, like a bulldozer, "raked" a pile of stones in one place. And it turned out to be an island that our colleagues have studied and have already mapped.

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 During the expedition, a new island was discovered, which was formed in June 2023. Photo: Stas Tolstnev
During the expedition, a new island was discovered, which was formed in June 2023. Photo: Stas Tolstnev

89 regional offices

In 2023, branches of the Russian Geographical Society were established in the DPR, LPR, Kherson and Zaporizhia Regions. The RGS now has 89 regional branches and 28,942 members.

"The Most Beautiful Country"

Observers state what we have been waiting for a long time and have been working hard on. Russians' interest in their homeland is breaking all records. For example, the number of participants in our traditional photo contest "The Most Beautiful Country" increased by 50% compared to last year. 8,755 people sent their works, and the jury had to evaluate more than 60,000 works. However, colleagues did it with pleasure – it's nice when you can choose the best from the good.

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The work of the winner of 2023 in the category "Faces of Russia". Photo: Andrey Serdyuchenko, participant of the RGS’s contest "The Most Beautiful Country"
The work of the winner of 2023 in the category "Faces of Russia". Photo: Andrey Serdyuchenko, participant of the RGS’s contest "The Most Beautiful Country"

By the way, in nine years about 100,000 people took part in the photo contest – the population of a small town.

The Geographical Dictation is on the March across the Planet

Our other super popular project, the Geographical Dictation, also expands the boundaries. In 2023, a record number of specially prepared venues around the world were organized for the participants of the international educational campaign of the Russian Geographical Society. There were more than 10,000 of them in Russia, and 237 venues in 109 foreign countries joined the campaign abroad, including Albania, Tanzania and Chad, where the Geographical Dictation was taken for the first time

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Photo: Anna Yurgenson/RGS’s press service
Photo: Anna Yurgenson/RGS’s press service

In total, over 600,000 people participated in the events of the campaign in an in-person and remote format, and each of them was able to get their own score on the geography of Russia.

Culinary Guide

The names of the winners of our other traditional contest  "The Best Guide of Russia" will be announced soon. In 2023, about 1,100 videos from all over Russia were sent to the contest. To the already traditional categories "City", "Museum", "Ecotourism" and "Best Guide under 18", a new one has been added: "Gastronomy". And it immediately became popular – our country has absorbed many cultural traditions, including culinary ones.

What the “Titan” didn't Know

The past year has not been without mournful events. In June, the world was shocked by the tragedy of the deep-sea vehicle "Titan", on which a group of tourists went to the infamous "Titanic".

Many theories have been put forward about what could have happened in the North Atlantic. One of the first who, even before clarifying all the circumstances, presented a fairly accurate picture of what had happened, was the scientific director of the RGS Underwater Research Center, Sergey Katkov.

This is not surprising, given the qualifications and experience of our experts. Scientific knowledge and practice as a criterion of truth are at the forefront of the activities of the RGS.

Shark Attack

“We were already knee-deep in water. Two or three more hours and we would have sunk like the ‘Titanic’,” one of the crew members, Evgeny Kovalevsky, described the situation after the shark attack on the sailing inflatable catamaran.

The circumnavigation expedition of the Tomsk Branch of the Russian Geographical Society "Following the paths of Russian explorers" set off on July 1, 2021, from Kronstadt. At the time of the shark attack, the catamaran was in the Pacific Ocean, about 800 km off the coast of Australia. The first attack took place on September 4. With the damaged rear left hull, the catamaran was able to travel about 100 miles. But the next day, the sharks attacked it again and bit through the right hull. The vessel began to sink. The crew sent out an SOS signal. After 45 minutes, the cargo ship “Dugong Ace” arrived and evacuated the travelers.

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An expedition catamaran attacked by sharks. Photo: Evgeny Kovalevsky
An expedition catamaran attacked by sharks. Photo: Evgeny Kovalevsky

The experience did not break the will of the crew, which, in addition to Evgeny Kovalevsky, includes Stanislav Berezkin. With the help of compatriots living in Australia, an 11-meter sailboat “Van De Stadt Seal 36” was purchased and equipped. On it, the daredevils continued their journey. They are now on their way to the shores of Indonesia. And they plan to complete the circumnavigation in the summer of 2024 in St. Petersburg.

Well, see you in the new year!

Nikolai Sumarokov