North Pole 7 station:
2,068 kilometers on drifting ice
From the diary of Vasily Vedernikov who headed the station's first crew

The North Pole 7 drifting ice station was established in the spring of 1957 in the eastern section of the Arctic Ocean, the least studied area of the Arctic. Its crew was ordered to expand meteorological, aerological, terrestrial-magnetism and ionosphere research during the International Geophysical Year

Ice-floe: Beginning

The station was located at some distance from air bases and as a result, it was necessary to create an intermediate staging area on drifting sea-ice formations. On April 9, we found a suitable ice-floe, but as luck would have it, the weather suddenly got worse. Blizzards swept the vicinity, with dense fog later setting in.

We were only able to take off on April 16 when the weather improved.

After flying for five hours over icy expanses, we saw a relatively smooth ice-floe, 2.7 kilometers long and 2.5 kilometers wide. This three-meter thick pack-ice formation had been compressed rock-hard for many years. Aircraft started transporting passengers and freight from Tiksi. They also delivered equipment, tools and instruments from the North Pole 4 station that had ended its three-year drift.

The station opens

On April 23, the first group of researchers landed on the ice-floe.

The sun shone high over the horizon, and a polar day had set in. Aircraft landed on the staging area 24 hours a day. People had to unload freight at minus 42 degrees Celsius, while braving cold and biting winds. Everyone worked almost round the clock, relaxing not more than three to four hours.

By May 1 [International Workers' Day, or the Day of Working People's International Solidarity], we had built a grandstand using snow blocks, added columns on both sides and decorated them with red flags.

The North Pole 7 drifting ice station opened on that same day. The weather was wonderful with clear skies and little noise. Air temperatures hovered at minus 24 degrees Celsius. It was hard to believe that the ice-floe could crack apart in such weather. But a crack between two and eight meters wide did appear 300 meters from the camp

The ice-floe probably cracked apart on impact with a tidal wave. Only the ionosphere team's house was located some distance away from our elliptical camp. We had placed our food packs, gear and fuel in several places, and the crack did not seriously threaten the camp.

A Mil Mi-4 Hound helicopter landed at the station after flying about 1,500 kilometers over the Arctic Ocean. We needed this wonderful helicopter because it helped us deliver essential material and equipment from the staging area to the camp and to finally get the station up and running.

Everything indicated that spring was fast approaching. The sunlight was getting hotter every day, the snow began to melt, and icicles formed on roofs and the slopes of hummocks. Ice-floes started moving once again. For the next four days, our ice-floe and smaller ones [that had broken off] rubbed against each other and drifted away, groaning and gyrating as they went. Our own ice-floe shrunk to almost a fifth of its previous size.


Surgery on an ice-floe

A tent with a medical unit was located between the houses of hydrologists and aerologists. Dr. Boris Korolyov examined and treated patients there. During the polar night, he treated crew members with quartz lamps.

Nikiforenko became sick on May 21, and Dr. Korolyov diagnosed him with acute appendicitis. It was impossible to speedily airlift the patient to the mainland USSR because of dense fog which hovered around the station for two days. The patient's condition grew worse, and Dr. Korolyov decided to operate on him. Nikiforenko got up on the fourth day after the surgery, and he resumed work on the tenth day.

Arctic summer

We were absorbed in setting up the station and did not notice that a wet and cold summer had set in. The pea-soup fog that often shrouded the camp was interspersed with drizzle and sleet. The sun shone only rarely. Air temperatures hovered around zero degrees most of the time. The snow covering our ice-floe was melting quickly. The first puddles of meltwater appeared in early July and they expanded day after day, turning into lakes.

We drilled dozens of holes all over the camp. At first, some of them froze over because of the low temperatures inside the layers of ice.

All the snow melted away in mid-July, and the ice also began to thaw at a fast pace. A one-meter-thick ice layer had disappeared by late summer. Ice remained intact under the houses, turning into pedestals that could fall at any moment. So, we had to relocate some of the houses

More intense shifts in the ice also forced us to move from place to place. Adjacent ice-floes compressed our own ice-floe and formed new ridges, hummocks and cracks. One of the cracks was within 40 meters of the aerologists' house and cut off a section of the camp with two tents. Another crack running parallel to the first one cut off the ice-floe's western section and ended near a large mound. We barely had time to remove our tents before the ice-floe partly disintegrated. One of its sections started drifting away, and a large patch of ice-free water formed where the crack had been.

We took off in our helicopter and saw that ice-free water around the ice-floe had expanded greatly. After reaching the runway 30 kilometers from our camp, we saw that the smooth ice surface, covered with a thin layer of snow, had turned into a long and narrow lake, with tiny ripples on the surface of the water. A tent, bleached white by the sun, stood all alone on a small islet.

It took a lot of time and effort to prepare a standby runway which was also rendered useless. This posed additional problems for us because we did not know where incoming aircraft could land. Therefore, we decided to construct a runway on the station's ice-floe.

A powerful blizzard hit the camp on August 23, with wind gusts blowing at 20 meters per second. The wind tore the roof off a garage where there were two tractors. Dry snowflakes hit our eyes so hard that we were unable to open them. Visibility was down to 50–100 meters, and ambient air temperatures dropped to minus five degrees Celsius. Large snow-drifts formed at work sites and around the houses. At that time, Moscow was enduring a 30-degree heat wave.

The polar summer was over, and autumn would soon set in. Sub-zero temperatures bit harder and harder every day. Snow began to cover the puddles of meltwater, and new ice started forming on patches of ice-free water. Seagulls and ducks no longer called on us. A snow bunting that sometimes visited us in summer also flew away. Ringed seals surfaced less often in patches of ice-free water

By that time, the station's ice-floe had traveled almost 1,000 kilometers along an intricate route. It crossed the 87th Parallel and drifted 500 kilometers due north. The station was located in a circumpolar region where ocean depths reach almost 4,000 meters.


Polar night

The camp's crew started preparing for the winter. Aerologists living near the above-mentioned crack moved further off, taking their bulky equipment with them.

We insulated our houses and built protective walls and bulkheads using snow blocks. We also finished building runways.

The sun was drifting closer and closer to the horizon. Sometime later, it touched the horizon and disappeared, although the skies remained bright during the day. The high clouds were covered with subtle pink, orange, yellow and violet hues, and a fabulously bright crimson tinge suddenly engulfed everything, including the ice, snow, water and the skies.

The sun disappeared completely on October 3, and a polar night lasting five and a half months began

We found the going hard; the camp's ice-floe was often compressed, and hummocks also formed from time to time. Our ice-floe was repeatedly jolted, and new cracks formed. On-duty personnel watched the ice-floe closely. Members of a permanent team inspected the ice-floe's perimeter twice a week and sometimes even more often.

Not a single polar bear visited us, neither in the summer nor during the polar night.

Sly ringed seal

At the end of the polar night, Blinov and Andreyev decided to catch some plankton. After entering the hydrological tent, Blinov saw a ringed seal looking at him from the ice-hole. The seal dove but resurfaced soon. This game of hide-and-seek continued for a while. The ringed seal probably felt quite comfortable inside the ice-hole, but it prevented both men from working. When they lowered instruments inside the ice-hole, the seal hit them as if protesting against the intruders. It became dangerous to conduct hydrological observations because the seal could cut the cables loose and the instruments would drop to the bottom of the ice-hole.

Korolyov soon caught the seal with a special trawl, used to study the animal world near the ocean-bed. He and Blinov removed the seal from the ice-hole, placed the animal on a sled and carried it to a patch of ice-free water 300 meters from the hydrological tent.

Blinov went back to the tent feeling happy because the seal would no longer interfere with his work. After stepping inside, he saw the animal looking at him from the water

An aircraft landed at our station two or three days later, and we decided to catch the seal and send it to a zoo on the mainland. We caught it inside the trawl, but the seal slipped away, plunged and did not resurface for a long time. So, our plan failed completely. The seal continued to visit us, although much less often.


The station’s tricky route

The sun rose over the horizon on March 9. We felt overjoyed after a six-month polar night, and the polar day began 20 days later.

We knew that the station would continue its work, and that a new crew, headed by Belov, Ph. D. (Geography), would arrive soon.

It took our station 12 months to drift 2,068 kilometers along a tricky route in a little-studied section of the Arctic Ocean and near the Pole of Inaccessibility. Therefore our research data proved highly important, especially for studying eastern Arctic nature.

The North Pole 7 station's drift confirmed a conjecture that the routes of the Central Polar Basin's ice formations are usually affected by local winds. The ice-floe's drift speeds tended to fluctuate throughout its 12-month journey. In summer, especially in August, the ice-floe attained maximum speeds, sometimes drifting at one kph daily. In winter, it drifted less than one kilometer per day

Meteorologists conducted about 4,000 observations. This data facilitated navigation along the Northern Sea Route. Observations involving about 800 radio-balloon probes helped study processes in  various atmospheric layers over the Arctic.

Chernigovsky, Ph. D. (Geography), and meteorologist Rogachov conducted over 9,000 observations to monitor solar radiation levels near the surface of the ice. They also evaluated its impact on ice-and-snow layers and on the under-ice ocean waters.

Hydrologist Blinov conducted oceanological research that made it possible to specify the ocean-bed relief, the composition of soils and water masses, to study the animal world, to monitor ice-melting and ice-expansion processes and to watch an ice-floe appear on the surface. Contrary to initial estimates, the ocean-bed relief in the drift sector turned out to be more rugged and complex. The eastern slopes of an uplift, located east of Lomonosov Ridge, were steeper than western ones. On some days, ocean depths near the eastern slopes fluctuated between 1,600 and 3,000 meters, with the ice-floe drifting 10–12 kilometers per day.

Geophysicists Ignatov, Kuchuberia and Borisov often recorded geomagnetic and ionospheric aberrations caused by greater solar activity.

The North Pole 7 station closed on April 11, 1959 after its ice-floe shrank to a length of 700, with a width of 450 meters.

Reply from Canada

We left behind letters addressed to those who would discover the camp's surviving facilities, asking them to report the ice-floe's coordinates to the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.

In October 1961, the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute received a letter from the National Research Council of Canada. The letter noted that the facilities of the North Pole 7 station had been discovered not far from the eastern shore of Baffin Island. On May 22, 1961, Harwood and Serson landed on the station's ice-floe. Later, they sent photo copies of letters, discovered by them on the ice-floe, and photos of the camp's surviving infrastructure

According to the Head of the National Research Council of Canada, a Royal Canadian Air Force plane first discovered the North Pole 7 station some distance from the eastern shore of Baffin Island. Its houses and tents stood on makeshift 3.5-meter tall pylons. The ice-floe was about two meters thick near the base camp, and there were also 61-centimeter snow-drifts. The camp's ice-floe was located about two kilometers from the outer edge of the fast ice, and open water loomed further off. This shore-fast ice disintegrated several weeks later, and the Labrador Current caught the ice-floe. It probably reached the warm Atlantic Ocean waters and melted away.

In all, the ice-floe carrying the North Pole 7 station drifted for over 5,000 kilometers toward the eastern shore of Baffin Island.

That was how the North Pole 7 station, which we recall so vividly and warmly, met its end.


Excerpts from the chapter Beyond the Pole from the Twelve Heroic Feats collection
Hydrometeorological Publishing House, 1964