A Russian ice station, built on sea ice in the Arctic to monitor environmental conditions in the area has been forced to pack up early due to thinning sea ice. Large cracks have been found in the ice flow on which the station is built, forcing the station to be abandoned months ahead of schedule.
Currently there are 16 scientists working at the Russian station, which “has no chance of surviving through this summer,” according to the head of Russia’s high-latitude Arctic expeditions Vladimir Sokolov.
“The station’s ice floe is cleaved and it was decided to dismantle the station to prevent an emergency situation,” Sokolov told RIA, adding that currently there is no threat to personnel.
There is no land under the Arctic ice pack, meaning that temporary ice stations need to be built on sea ice to allow access to the top of the world. Reduced Arctic sea ice extent, combined with the thinning ice pack is causing problems for scientists wishing to study the region.
Building the ice station in sea ice means that the station is not anchored in any way, and moves around the Arctic with the sea ice pack. Since, October 2012, when the station was built (which was actually later than planned since the project leaders had difficulties finding a location with thick enough sea ice to support the station), it has drifted more than 1,500km around the Arctic, and is currently sitting just north of western Canada.
The Russian ice station was built near the Canadian side of the Arctic ice pack, where the ice is older and thicker, since the sea ice near Russia has become too thin.
Current sea ice extent is tracking along the lower bounds of the 1970-2000 average, however, the minimum sea ice extent does not occur until mid-September, so it is too early to tell how this year’s sea ice extent will fare compared to previous years.
This is not the first Russian ice station that has had to be abandoned ahead of schedule. In 2008, scientists from the ice station had to be rescued when the ice sheet the station was built on diminished from 15 square km, to only 300m across.
In an unfortunate ironic twist, Russian president Vladimir Putin commissioned Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation to provide “icebreakers, drilling rigs and extraction platforms that Russia will require for more efficient exploitation of Arctic resources.”
Melting Arctic sea ice is opening up large areas of the Arctic for resource exploration. Currently, issues surrounding the ownership of these resources is preventing extraction of fossil fuel reserves, however, it seems inevitable that these resources will eventually be mined, further adding to the carbon emissions responsible for melting the Arctic.