Irina Orlova: Norwegian aviation authorities toughen rules for Barneo-2016
Ms. Orlova, when did the Barneo-2016 expedition take place?
As usual, helicopters left in late March and we all came back in late April.
Were there any emergencies and how did the members of the expedition cope with them?
The temperatures were very low this season, hovering around 39-41 degrees Celsius during almost the entire month. It was difficult for us to find a good ice floe because the winter was very warm. By contrast, April was too cold. We had to redo the runway four times. A warm winter followed by an abrupt cold spell made the ice very fragile.
How do women survive in such extreme conditions?
They have to train hard and be in good physical shape. Some women ski to the North Pole alongside men. They sleep in cold tents but in warm sleeping bags. Personally I can only tell you how I took part in organizing the first camps.
Personally, it was a strain on me as a woman. Everyday life was not easy. We landed practically in open country and began to set up a camp. You could warm yourself up at the camp of the helicopter pilots, which I did from time to time. Otherwise, there was no place to take a break or warm up before we built our first companion cabin.
How do you relax?
Usually everyone is busy. When the weather is bad and there are quite a few people in the camp, we listen to lectures on the Arctic. We also play football, chess and checkers or read books. We have a good collection of films. Pilots watch movies on the days when the camp is quiet and there are no flights. But this year everything went fast because of the anticyclone and nobody wanted to be delayed.
What are your plans for next season?
We are going to scale down the base on Svalbard next season. We used a Norwegian airport before and the Russian research base was located on a floe on Norwegian territory. This worked without a hitch for 15 years and we did everything from Norwegian territory.
All of a sudden, we started facing obstacles in how we conduct our expedition — for the first time in 15 years. This was probably due to the escalation of tensions. The rules for us have been toughened. We used to submit documents 48 hours before the flight and were quickly cleared, while now it takes two days to check our papers. This may put our people at risk. Suppose someone has a bad leg injury but we are not allowed to get him out as soon as possible. There are also problems with our way back. Flights were prohibited for us all the time. So we decided to transfer our base from Svalbard to the Franz Josef Land Archipelago.
True, this change is still at the stage of finalization and approval. Call it tourist import substitution. In other words, we are moving the entire tourist flow to Russian territory. This is probably the main change.
What kind of research did you do this time?
We had researchers working on our team. I'm not a researcher myself and I don't know what they did, but this year Dr. Igor Melnikov, chief research fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oceanology, was not able to conduct his research.
He didn't make it because the Norwegian aviation authorities toughened the rules for us. Our flight was delayed, the schedule was disrupted and Dr. Melnikov simply couldn't be squeezed in. We received permission to fly too late and it made no sense to perform this experiment. So our program was somewhat curtailed this year.