What sounds like an April‘s Fool joke is in fact a true story: Russia plans to establish a research platform at the North Pole, similar to the Amundsen-Scott Station at the southern end of the world. The new station eventually will replace the Russian drift ice stations that have been around since the 1930s.

The geographical North Pole has lured many expeditioners into the vast and icy realm of the Arctic. Nowadays, the ice cover gets thinner almost every year, causing a lot of problems for researchers and expeditions. Credit: Michael Wenger
The geographical North Pole has lured many expeditioners into the vast and icy realm of the Arctic. Nowadays, the ice cover gets thinner almost every year, causing a lot of problems for researchers and expeditions. Credit: Michael Wenger

As vanishing Arctic ice makes it increasingly difficult to uphold research activities in the highest Arctic, Russia moves ahead with plans to build a research platform for the region. The projected self-propelled platform will have top-level ice protection and be able to move autonomously around in Arctic waters for up to three years, Minister of Natural Resources Sergey Donskoy told RIA Novosti. The active development phase is to begin before June this year and construction will start in 2019, Donskoy confirms. The platform is a joint project with federal meteorological service Roshydromet and was outlined as a priority project in the recently adopted social and economic development program for the Arctic. The platform will be named «North Pole» and be operated by Roshydromet. It has a preliminary investment cost of €98 million. The new platform is to replace the North Pole research stations based on drifting ice floes. The Soviet Union and later Russia has had floating research stations in the Arctic since 1937, with a break in the years 1991-2003.

The planned platform will have the appearance of an icebreaker and will be able to propel itself through the ice. It will be self-sufficient for up to three years, according to the plans of the developer. Credit: Roshydromet
The planned platform will have the appearance of an icebreaker and will be able to propel itself through the ice. It will be self-sufficient for up to three years, according to the plans of the developer. Credit: Roshydromet

In the latest years, the research station has normally been established on an ice floe in September-October, and some two dozens of scientists would spend the winter there, measuring climate and weather conditions. During the last couple of years, it has become more and more difficult to find ice floes solid enough to hold a station. The last “real” ice station, “North Pole-40”, was established in October 2012, and had to be evacuated in May 2013, because the ice floe the base was placed on, started to break apart. The 16 scientists that had spent the winter on the floe had to be rescued by a nuclear-powered icebreaker sent out from Murmansk. Russia did not set up any floating stations in 2013-2014 or in 2014-2015. In April 2015 they established a station called “North Pole 2015”, which only existed for four months.

The privately funded drift ice station Camp Barneo is set up each year approximately 100 km south of the North Pole. From this camp, private and research expeditions to the North Pole take place. Credit: Heiner Kubny
The privately funded drift ice station Camp Barneo is set up each year approximately 100 km south of the North Pole. From this camp, private and research expeditions to the North Pole take place. Credit: Heiner Kubny

The shrinking Arctic ice is creating problems also for Russian private ice camp Barneo.  The temporary ice camp has been put up around this time of the year annually since 2002. The ice base is sponsored by the Russian Geographical Society and normally lasts for the month of April. It is used as a base for scientific research and for expeditions to the North Pole, and has during the last years become a more and more popular destination for tourists.

Source: Atle Staalesen / The Independent Barents Observer