Analysis and Commentary
International involvement in the Arctic Floating University 2017 expedition will be the greatest in history
© RIA Novosti. Ramil Sitdikov

International involvement in the Arctic Floating University 2017 expedition will be the greatest in history

Each year, the Northern (Arctic) Federal University’s research and educational expedition, Arctic Floating University (AFU), sets out for the Arctic seas aboard the research vessel Professor Molchanov. Arctic.ru asked the project head, Konstantin Zaikov, what the expedition’s route will be and what the participants will research this year.

When will the Arctic Floating University set sail in 2017? How long will the expedition be? What route will it take?

By tradition, the expedition will last 20 days, from July 8 to July 28. Our main goal is to reach Franz Josef Land. The expedition will leave Arkhangelsk in the direction of Cape Zhelaniya, the Greater Oranskiye Islands and the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya, after which the ship will head towards Franz Josef Land. We are planning to work about 10 days offshore and 10 days onshore and then go back to Arkhangelsk.

Do you have a research program?

Yes, we have an extensive research program. The important thing is that we go on with the hydrology work that began in 2012. Last year, we took time off from that because we worked in other areas. This year, we'll continue working on the hydrological sections of the northwestern trench between Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land, because some very interesting fundamental data have been obtained there over three years of surveys. These add much to the water circulation and ice drift model in that area, which is of much importance for both navigation and biomass evaluation.

In addition, we'll continue our soil studies, including the collection of data on the chemical content of soils. We'll describe the characteristics to understand how they influence the formation of onshore biomass and the vegetation cover in the archipelago. There are many things that we don't yet know about Franz Josef Land.

We will also use paleomagnetic approaches to study the archipelago's past and its origins. Among other things, data will be collected on resources for potential mining purposes.

We will study bird migrations and bird populations. We'll estimate the size of the existing populations and possibly discover some new ones that have not been recorded in the region. In this way, reference points will be determined for subsequent surveys. This information will be added to the Birds of the Arctic international database.

2017 is the Year of the Environment. Is the AFU planning environmental studies?

Our research inevitably involves ecosystem studies and assessments of how ecosystems are affected by climate change. We analyze hydrological systems and chemical compositions of soil and water, because they are interconnected. The Arctic Floating University trains personnel who will later be hired by environmental monitoring organizations. I mean we continue to work in this area regardless of whether 2017 is the Year of the Environment or not. Our program has a powerful environmental component. This is one of the reasons we have been put on the federal list as a project aimed at studying the environment and training the right people for work in the Arctic Zone in Russia.

Have you recruited expedition members?

Yes we have. This is done in two steps. First, we draft a research program and send it to Russian and foreign organizations, including through the Arctic Council. We announce enrolment in the research and educational program focused on a certain subject. This year's focus is Franz Josef Land. Our main idea is that the studies should complement each other.

The program was completed in late December and the core of the researchers and teachers took shape by that time. In February, we formed the expedition's student body, based on applications received by the AFU reserve. 

The project is rapidly internationalizing. One-half of the student body was actually recruited last year when we signed an agreement with Switzerland. They fielded 18 students from three universities that are part of the Geneva Global consortium. These students will do different types of Arctic research under the direction of Russian scientists.   

Will people from other countries participate?

Yes, of course. We'll have researchers from Germany (Alfred Wegener Institute), ornithologists from Austria, students from Sweden and France — 25 foreigners from five countries, including Switzerland. This is the biggest international expedition in terms of the number of participants in the history of the AFU project.