Veteran plans a new Arctic expedition

Moscow: Ivan Frolov, a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is Head of the Arctic and Antarctic Studies Institute, where he has been working for 50 years out of the institute’s almost 100 years.

Over this time, he has participated in more than 30 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica, where he spent the total of about seven years. He joined the first expedition in 1971, right after he graduated from the Leningrad Hydro-Meteorology University.

“In 1971, when I joined the Arctic Institute, I realized: in order to model Arctic processes, I must see those ices, feel what I explore, and thus I flew along the Northern Sea Route to study the ice there,” the scientist said.

In that year, he participated in the first expedition to Pevek, and then – to Dikson – at first as an engineer, a forecaster, and then as the expedition’s head. Each of the 30 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, he said, is different and interesting.

However, Arctic expeditions may be as interesting as dangerous. The scientist remembered how during a flight from Dikson on board an Ilyushin Il-14, one of the engines failed.

“The engine could explode,” he said. “In those areas in February everything is like at night, down there was only ice covered with water, and nobody could help us,” he said. The plane’s captain decided to stop the engine. The second engine could hardly manage, so the scientists had to drop all the heavy stuff, including barrels with additional fuel. “The captain managed to land the plane with only one engine – there, in Dikson, the ambulance and firefighters were meeting us, but everything finished fine.”

The scientist focuses on sea ice studies, Arctic and Antarctic polar meteorology, the Arctic Ocean’s and Arctic seas’ ice and hydrology regimes. Nowadays, he continued, it is very important to understand how the polar areas influence the Earth’s climate change. Such studies are subjects of Russian and international expeditions. A key research direction for the Institute and its head is to give weather and environment forecasts, necessary for navigation along the Northern Sea Route.

“In the 1980s, along that route the turnover was seven million tonnes, now – about 12 million tonnes, and the plans are that by 2024 it will make 50-80 million tonnes,” he said. “This is a tenfold growth against those times.”

“Picking direct routes in the Arctic is not always the quickest option,” he said with a smile. “The key is to find the thinnest ice, where the pressure is not high, as it may block even nuclear icebreakers.” Thus, the institute’s experts offer systems of hydro-meteorology forecast, which could be used in navigation along the Northern Sea Route.

The age cannot stop Ivan Frolov from new expeditions to the severe Arctic. In March, 2019, he will go to the Western Arctic – to Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land. The expedition will work on variants and technologies to be used at the future North Pole ice-resistant self-propelled platform. Frolov was among those who initiated the project about ten years ago.

From the platform, scientists will made complex studies in the central Arctic basin in secure and comfortable conditions. The vessel will replace the traditional North Pole stations, drifting in the ice – their work has been suspended because in the higher air temperatures scientists could not find reliable ice to use as a base for studies. The platform is expected to be set afloat in 2021.

Before the ice platform is ready, the Frolov said, scientists will practice the mechanism of climate research on ice. In the past, polar explorers worked on the station, located on ice, while on the new platform they will enjoy comfortable conditions.

The Arctic climate and nature studies are of the global importance, the scientist said. “The Arctic is storage of mineral resources, which our followers will be using for the coming 100-300 years, and we must study accurately all processes in the Arctic Ocean to allow producing those resources without making damage to the Arctic ecology,” he said.

Besides, the Arctic region plays an important role in formation of the global climate, thus scientists will suggest mechanisms for more detailed forecasts. Those studies are conducted at the Arctic and Antarctic Institute, led by Ivan Frolov. In 2020, the institute will celebrate its 100th birthday.