The second stage of the Joint Complex Expedition of the Russian Geographical Society and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation with the support of Russian Arctic National Park to the island of Alexandra Land of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Franz Josef Land by the expedition of Karl Weyprecht and Julius Payer, has ended.
At the end of August 1973, the members of the expedition led by Karl Weyprecht and Julius Payer saw an unfamiliar land, which was named after the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph.
In the year of the 150th anniversary of the geographical discovery, the Complex Expedition of the Russian Geographical Society went to Alexandra Land – one of the islands of this remote Arctic archipelago.
During the first stage of the expedition (it took place in May 2023), seismic studies were carried out, ice temperature and salinity profiles were constructed, its thickness and other characteristics were measured. At the second stage, the range of scientific tasks has significantly expanded. The expedition was attended by the specialists from the Russian Geographical Society, employees at Russian Arctic National Park, scientists from the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Murmansk Marine Biological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the federal research center "Geophysical Survey of the Russian Academy of Sciences".
“The main task of any national park is to protect the territory, but in order to do it effectively, you need to know it," explains the head of the expedition, director of Russian Arctic National Park Alexander Kirilov. “The island of Alexandra Land has never really been studied. Research on it was carried out earlier as part of the joint expeditions of the Russian Geographical Society and the Northern Fleet ‘Umka – 2020’ and ‘Umka – 2021’, but then scientists studied only the seismic activity of the island and conducted observations of marine mammals. The 2023 expedition is the first experience of such a global comprehensive study, when work was carried out in many scientific areas. This will provide a complete picture of the natural processes taking place not only on the island of Alexandra Land, but also in the Arctic as a whole.”
A ZEFI seismic and infrasound monitoring station was installed on the territory of Russian Arctic National Park, and it has already shown its capabilities – on September 13, at 11:28 a.m., it recorded an earthquake with the magnitude of 3.1 in the Gakkel Ridge zone. Registration of seismic and acoustic events will allow tracking the reaction rates of the Arctic cryolithosphere to global climate changes, as well as studying processes of dynamics of Arctic glaciers. In the future, this opens up the possibility of early warning about the descent of icebergs into the waters of the Arctic Ocean. In addition, geophysicists continued to search for ancient earthquakes, conducted geotectonic and seismic research. During the field work, six temporary seismic stations were installed. Scientists have identified traces of strong Paleozoic earthquakes in the relief and early sediments on the capes of Melekhov and Dvoynoy and in the vicinity of the latter. Measurements were carried out at eight sites. Presumably, the focus of repeated strong earthquakes with an intensity of 8-9 points, which occurred several thousand to hundreds of years ago, has been identified. It is possible that they may happen again in the future.
Scientists have installed two camera traps that will record the appearance of walruses on the island of Alexandra Land during their migrations to more southern waters. Photo: Leonid Kruglov
Glaciologists investigated glacial caves and took samples of thawed ground water, ice, water from lakes and rivers for isotopic analysis. Samples of dead moss were collected (after finding out the time of its death, it will be possible to determine the age of the glacier), samples of cryoconites– windblown material that accumulates on the surface of the glacier – were taken.
Specialists conducted geobotanical mapping of the area and set up monitoring sites at different heights to see how solar radiation and climatic conditions affect vegetation.
Zoologists have carried out work to study the biodiversity of marine mammals. In particular, to assess the condition of the Atlantic subspecies of walrus on the territory of Russian Arctic National Park, they installed camera traps on one of the beaches where the appearance of these animals is most likely. Traps will record the appearance of walruses on the island of Alexandra Land during their migrations to more southern waters.
Scientists lived and worked at the year-round “Omega” field base of Russian Arctic National Park, located almost on the shore of Severnaya Bay. Opened back in Soviet times, “Omega” was the northernmost station where scientific research was carried out in various fields. It resembles a two-storey country cottage, the windows of the first floor of which are protected by bars in case a polar bear tries to get inside.
Polar bears are often seen on the island, but their greatest number is observed in April and at the end of September – during the migration period, the paths of which pass through Alexandra Land. The habitat of polar bears is sea ice, and whenever it washes ashore, there is a chance that bears will come along with the ice. The expedition members saw them twice. The first time a bear came to the station, wandered right under the windows, but, not finding anything to eat, it went away. The day before, sea ice had washed up to the shore, and, most likely, the bear came from it.
The second meeting took place during field research. The predator came out from behind a hill, but the scientists were always accompanied by a park employee who knows how to behave in such cases, so everything ended peacefully.
“In November, we plan to hold a scientific and technical council, where we will review the research results and outline promising areas for continuing this kind of comprehensive research on the island of Alexandra Land," Alexander Kirilov shares. “Of course, all of them are relevant, but for us, as a national park, first of all, it is worth highlighting the research of wildlife and glaciers.”