Antarctica Expedition Plans Hampered by New Omicron Variant

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Кадочников В.Г.

Due to a new strain of coronavirus, the flight from St. Petersburg to Qatar to Cape Town, which was scheduled for December 3, was cancelled. Due to this fact, the participants of the scientific Antarctic party of Mining University had to leave for Moscow by train a day earlier. And then they flew to South Africa with connections via Athens and Addis Ababa.

This route was virtually the only way to get aboard the Akademik Fedorov, which left the city on the Neva a month ago. Last weekend it was docked at the port of the second-most populous city in the Republic of South Africa, waiting for the RAE participants, who had originally been scheduled to arrive there by plane.

“The flight was not an easy one. We spent more than a day on the road, constantly thinking about how flights would change at the airports, and how we would be greeted by health inspectors at the border in Cape Town. It all became stricter because of the Omicron, and any delay on the way could have resulted in a delay to the Akademik Fedorov, which was leaving for the White Continent strictly on schedule on December 4," said Alexei Bolshunov, head of the scientific party of St. Petersburg Mining University.

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© Алёхина И.А.

Despite the fears of the polar explorers, who, together with their colleagues from the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, were heading for Vostok station, everything went relatively smoothly. After arriving in Cape Town and successfully passing health inspection, they were immediately taken to port.

“Normally, members of the glacio-drilling squadron get to South Africa via Europe and the Middle East, but now a new strain of coronavirus has caused them all to cut off air traffic to South Africa. This jeopardized the plan of drilling and research work at Vostok Station, but fortunately, we made it to the ship in time,” did not hide his joy the scientific head of the Antarctic party of Mining University Sergey Ignatiev.

As explained by Vyacheslav Kadochnikov, lead engineer of St. Petersburg Mining University, the omikron corrected not only the plans of those RAE employees who flew from Russia but also those who sailed on the Akademik Fedorov. Upon arrival in Cape Town, they were immediately informed that due to new sanitary and epidemiological restrictions it was strictly forbidden to sail to the African continent.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Васильев Д.А.
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© Форпост Северо-Запад

“Of course, we all wanted to go ashore, so the current situation was upsetting, to say the least. But there are no complaints, of course. Everyone understands perfectly well that this is a necessary measure. Most importantly, we feel that we are part of a great cause. In addition, Cape Town pleases us every day with its picturesque sunsets. And the other day I saw a fur-seal that had taken up residence in one of the waste tires of a forklift (they are used for damping when mooring ships). As he left his resting place and was splashing around among the trash in the very dirty port waters, I managed to get a good look at him and noticed a pronounced neck, which is atypical for pinnipeds. My guess is that the poor thing was once caught in a net and now its neck is being squeezed by a rope and a rewound fishing line. Unfortunately, people’s illiterate economic activities and their insufficiently sensitive attitude to nature, leave such imprints, both on wildlife and flora of our planet. Take care of it, friends!” shared his impressions Vyacheslav Kadochnikov.

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© Кадочников В.Г.

Danil Serbin, another RAE participant from Mining University, confirmed that despite the quarantine, the crew members have no problems with leisure time. Someone plays board games and chess, someone gathers in groups and organizes analogues of “flat parties” – in Russian, «каютники» – with songs with guitar and heartfelt conversations.

“Of course, there are scientific discussions on the general directions of research in the Arctic and Antarctic. We exchange experience of participation in Russian and international expeditions and conferences, discuss modern achievements of science and technology in areas of interest to us. For example, we learned about successful international space programs for direct (in situ) study of Venus and Mars, in which our colleagues from the ship took part. We are sure that one day we will take part in them too, as leading specialists in the field of rock sampling in super-extreme conditions with full automation of the process. After all, ice is a unique rock that changes its properties depending on the nature of its formation. It's one step from Antarctica to space, and there is even an opinion that it is easier to get to the International Space Station than to Vostok station in winter,” Danil Serbin shared his plans.

Dmitry Vasiliev, a postgraduate student at St. Petersburg Mining University, is not bored either. Moreover, he noted that the party consciously refused to watch TV programs, although there is such an opportunity every day - the TV is in the canteen. Instead, during the crossing from German Bremerhaven to Cape Town, the polar explorers mostly “spent time in the local library, where there are many works about Antarctica and our planet in general.”

“Hobbies are an essential part of every polar explorer’s life. We take the opportunity to try our luck at sea fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. True, so far without success, but the main thing is the process,” said Dmitry Vasiliev.

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© Кадочников В.Г.

The most experienced member of the Mining University’s Antarctic party, associate professor of the Department of Well Drilling Andrei Dmitriev, who flew to South Africa via Athens and Addis Ababa, noted that “the last time he was on the ‘Akademik Fedorov’ was eight years ago, back during the 59th RAE.”

“Of course, everything here is familiar to me, for this time nothing has changed dramatically. It was especially pleasant to meet guys with whom I once participated in Antarctic expeditions, seasonal work, and wintering. We exchanged news with old friends and shared our plans of work at Mirny, Progress and Vostok Antarctic stations.”

Vyacheslav Shadrin, a postgraduate student of the Department of Electric Power Engineering and Electromechanics of the oldest technical school in Russia, stressed that for him it was “the first experience of such a long-distance flight across two continents.”

“I very much want to visit the engine room and the flybridge, where all the ship’s systems are controlled. After all, my colleagues, who have been here for over a month, studied the ship in detail and visited the restricted areas. All this is a new experience for me, and I'm sure there will be a lot of interesting and exciting things ahead of me.”

Let us remind you that on November 22, Akademik Fedorov crossed the equator, which was dedicated to the traditional sea holiday the Day of Neptune. In its framework, the polar explorers, who were for the first time on the zero parallel, were thrown into the pool of seawater.

День Нептуна
© Miloch Wojciech

“In the old days, they used to dirty applicants with fuel oil and ink before bathing, but now the devils have become kinder, and Neptune is less demanding. When all the ‘victims’ of maritime traditions passed the ritual of initiation, the king of oceans and seas gave the final approval of the passage of the vessel through his possessions,” said Vyacheslav Kadochnikov about the ceremony.

Note that the glacial-drilling team, which is on its way to Vostok station, apart from scientists of St. Petersburg Mining University, also includes representatives of the AARI Alexey Turkeyev, Alexey Yekaykin, Irina Alyokhina, and Mikhail Zhakov. For the first time a specialist from the Korean Polar Research Institute in Incheon, Sun Doo Hoo, will take part in the seasonal work.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад

On the photo: glacio-drilling squad (1st row, from left to right - Alyokhina, Zhakov, Bolshunov, Ignatyev, Dmitriev, Soon Do Hur, 2nd row - Shadrin, Turkeyev, Vasilyev, Serbin, Kadochnikov)