Polar bear expedition off to a good start

Polar bear expedition off to a good start

11 October 2010

A multidisciplinary research expedition, organized as part of the Polar Bear Programme by the Russian Academy of Sciences Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IPEE RAN), got off to a successful start on September 6, 2010. It is travelling aboard the Mikhail Somov and is sponsored by the Northern Administration of the State Meteorological Service (UGMS).


Russia urgently needs up-to-date statistics on polar bears in the Arctic. The Institute's scientists are facing a difficult challenge: to record observations of sea mammals throughout the entire journey of the diesel electric icebreaker Mikhail Somov from Arkhangelsk to Wrangel Island and back.


Having left the port of Arkhangelsk on September 6, the Mikhail Somov sailed through the Barents Sea, past Kolguyev Island, and entered the Kara Sea, bypassing Vaigach Island and the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago. After that, the ship's course was set across the Kara Sea past Dikson towards the Sedov Archipelago (Severnaya Zemlya).


Apart from observing polar bears, zoologists aboard are also taking an inventory of white whales, walruses, seals and large whales in difficult to access parts of Russia's Arctic.


In addition, the Institute's staff , are studying the continental coast and Arctic islands along the ship's route from the air, using a ship-based MI-8T helicopter.


They have already explored Severnaya Zemlya islands (Bolshoy Lyakhovsky and Maly Lyakhovsky). On Bolshoy Lyakhovsky, researchers have discovered several groups of polar bears, 15 in total. All the animals looked healthy.


Among climatic features, the scientists have noted a low level of ice cover in the ocean. Up to now they have spotted ice only off the western coast of Severnaya Zemlya.


From the Laptev Sea, the vessel proceeded further, across the East Siberian Sea, towards the Chukchi Peninsula. In the course of its voyage the Mikhail Somov made stopovers to unload equipment and food at Arctic stations on Vaigach Island (Novaya Zemlya), Golomyanny (Severnaya Zemlya), Andreya Island, and Cape Chelyuskin (Taimyr Peninsula). Zoologists joined the landing parties as well. They polled the Arctic explorers and border guards about the animals seen. A poll was also conducted among crew and expedition members. It was agreed that the Arctic explorers would keep observation diaries of sea mammals all of next year. The ship reached the village of Tiksi by late September, where it unloaded a new weather station, as well as food supplies for local residents. At present, the Mikhail Somov has crossed the East Siberian Sea and reached Wrangel Island in the Chukchi Sea. The research vessel is expected to return to Arkhangelsk in late November.