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Polar scientists talk about a typical day at the Vostok research station

© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ

Very soon will start 68th season of Russian Antarctic Expedition, which will traditionally send scientists from St. Petersburg Mining University, as well as the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute to the scientific station Vostok. Last year the oldest technical university in our country sent a record number of its representatives to the White Continent, 7 people at once, four of whom had no experience of being at the polar stations before. Forpost asked them to recall their typical day in Antarctica.

"First thing in the morning, I put on my felt boots."

Vostok is the most inaccessible and inhospitable Russian station on the Sixth Mainland. It is located almost in its center, about 3,500 meters above sea level. It is there where the lowest temperature on the planet has been recorded, and it was there last winter the researchers of the Mining University worked for a month and 10 days.

This is literally a unique place, because under the ice shell, at a depth of more than 3700 meters there is the relic Lake Vostok, which has been isolated from the Earth's atmosphere for over a million years. In the future, drillers from the St. Petersburg University are planning to take water samples from it, for the third time in history, and, for the first time, samples of bottom sediments.

Станция Восток в Антарктиде
© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ

In the meantime, they are conducting a set of research works aimed at creating new environmentally safe technologies of glacier drilling and research of subglacial bodies of water. Another task is to obtain ice cores, hundreds of thousands of years old, from a new branch in the borehole. The study of these cylinders makes it possible to understand what processes took place in the Earth's atmosphere at the time of their formation and what consequences they led to. Thanks to this research and comprehension of regularities in this field of knowledge, predictions of climate changes made by scientists become much more accurate.

Polar explorers worked in three shifts of 8 hours: morning, day and night, with three people in each shift. Such a schedule made it possible to work at the station around the clock.

The first shift operated the drilling rig from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., so it was the closest to the usual schedule. But the day shift workers would start drilling at 4 p.m., so they would get up in the afternoon, and they would have already finished their breakfast, so they went straight on to lunch. First, however, they let the previous shift rest, while they looked after the equipment and fully performed the functions of their colleagues for the time of the shift change. The third, night shift, would start drilling at midnight and finish at 8 a.m.

"First thing in the morning I put on a work suit and felt boots - otherwise it was too cold. During our expedition the temperature ranged from -30 to -50 degrees. No footwear has been invented better than felt boots, even in the age of nanotechnology. Experienced polar explorers lined them with double or triple soles, but for us, young scientists, with two pairs of woolen socks one was enough. Without wool socks, tied with love by my grandmother, there is nothing to do in the East!" recalls Vyacheslav Kadochnikov.

Добыча керна
© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ


The living quarters, the rig and the galley at the station were in different places, so Vyacheslav would go out right away after getting dressed. In the pocket of his work jacket he always had a toothbrush with paste. The polar explorers could wash and brush their teeth in the same place where they slept only if they brought water in advance, but not everyone did so.

"The most important thing at the station is trust in the team and everyone's understanding of their responsibility for the result. For example, the person on duty at the station is responsible for the availability of water in the East, which is extracted from the snow. But the other scientists in their spare time never refuse to help him - they saw the snow and then take it to the melting room. Nothing surprising in this, on our ability to work as a team depends not only the availability of water for the next day, but also a favorable microclimate, especially important in isolation from the outside world, "- says the young scientist.

By the way, it is much more difficult to do physical labor in the East than in the usual conditions. And it is not just because of the frost. The atmospheric pressure there is almost two times lower than normal, there is very little oxygen in the air, and this leads to rapid fatigue.

"Despite the fact that the distances between the buildings at Vostok station are small, at first it was very difficult for us to move between them. Some may not believe it, but the walk from the station's main building to the drilling rig with a height difference of five meters was a real challenge. In normal conditions there is nothing difficult about it, of course, but in Antarctica after walking 25 meters you will definitely stop to catch your breath, because you become dizzy and dark in the eyes," recalls Vyacheslav.

Simultaneously, a dissertation.

He and his colleagues from the afternoon shift had an hour left before work started. Everyone used the time in his or her own way: some had coffee, some exchanged new knowledge and research plans with colleagues, some called home or read the news on the Internet. In addition, it was possible to talk to the radio operator and get the latest news from him or to help the meteorologist perform daily measurements. But the night shift worker, graduate student Dmitry Vasiliev, was starting scientific experiments at this time.

Дмитрий Васильев
© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ

On the expedition he not only worked on the main drilling rig, but also did his dissertation research, in which he and his supervisor developed a more efficient method of drilling the upper horizons.

"The essence of our method is that the bottomhole is cleaned and cuttings are taken out with air. In the long run this will speed up the process and reduce the risk of equipment downtime due to malfunctions. To conduct the experiments we drilled a 30-meter deep well about 700 meters away from the station, tested our method, and obtained an ice core and cuttings, which we later studied in the glaciology laboratory", says Dmitry.

Meanwhile, the day shift discussed the tasks ahead and joined the work cycle for 8 hours. During their shift, the crew hardly ever leaves the rig, but their tasks are varied. They range from operating a winch at all operating stages to rig maintenance: rig assembly and disassembly, core extraction, replacement of mud filters, performance tests of various components and preparation of equipment for the next run. Vyacheslav Kadochnikov explains:

"Despite the fact that our duties are divided, all employees are interchangeable - everyone has to have such a set of competencies to get involved in the drilling process at any time."

© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ

Leisure time

His work on the rig ended at midnight, and after that there was free time to devote to research work.

"To be honest, I only read fiction on the ship. The library at the station consists mainly of specialized books. For example, I studied technical documentation on construction of drilling complex 5G named after Boris Kudryashov, as this information will be useful for us when designing a new modern complex, and my colleague studied international law in Antarctica. There is nowhere to go for a walk in the East, because there is an ice desert all around. But at Progress station, which is on the shore, you can, but first you have to inform the radio operator of the route and get special equipment from him," says Vyacheslav Kadochnikov.

Вячеслав Кадочников
© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ

Young scientists spent almost all their time at the station either drilling or working on their own projects. However, according to Dmitry Vasiliev, no one perceived this as an unnecessary burden, much less a liability:

"We were in a hurry to implement all their plans, because the season is not elastic, and in St. Petersburg to perform full-scale experiments is simply impossible. Besides, what else was there to do? Sitting and pining for home, for loved ones, even on a day off... absolutely no one wants to. Personally, I was so carried away that at some point, near the end of the expedition, the head of the scientific party of Gorny Alexei Bolshunov did not even allow me to do experiments, but sent me to bed, so I would not undermine my health because of accumulated fatigue from almost twenty-four-hour work."

© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ / Данил Сербин за работой на полярной станции «Восток»

Late supper

At 3-4 in the morning, when Vyacheslav Kadochnikov and his colleagues on the day shift finished their experiments and other personal matters, it was time for dinner and sleep. However, since it was already late and the cooks had finished their work by that time, the scientists decided on their "brigade" supper on their own.

Vyacheslav says that in their brigade last season Chinese food, once given to Russian scientists by their colleagues from China, was very popular.

"Perhaps they feared that these supplies would spoil at the coastal station. But in the East, at a surface temperature of -57 degrees Celsius, they can be stored forever, so for us such a gift was just right. We fried such small Chinese dumplings with vegetables and something like crab sticks in a pan, melted cheese, added spices. So it was a late dinner, but it was delicious," he assures.

Any of us would say we want to go back

Of course, the young men worked less on Sundays than they did on weekdays. They usually spent their free time together and did not forget to relax.

"My colleague Danil Serbin played guitar and sang beautiful songs of his own composition, we also all sang Aria, Kino, Vysotsky together. We watched films and series, the ones we would never watch at home in St. Petersburg. But in Antarctica, they seemed very interesting. In general we did what we do in normal life, but with a slight headache from hypoxia (low oxygen content in the body )" - laughs Dmitry Vasiliev

Полярники, восток
© Алехина И. А., ААНИИ

One of the objectives of the 67th expedition was to train a new generation of specialists to organize and conduct drilling operations in Antarctica. Now young scientists are full of enthusiasm and ready to go again to the cold continent. They are attracted by the glaciers, nature in its pristine beauty, and in addition, in Antarctica the young polar explorers encountered things they would never experience in normal life.

"On our return we were dumbfounded by the rhythm of life in the city, its hustle and bustle, I got used to the fact that you have to be constantly on the phone, check your phone. In normal life, you constantly have to run somewhere, deal with a million things, but in the East the values are very different: all you have is your team and your common noble cause. Even if you want to leave the station - where to? For many kilometers around there is ice desert and not a single living organism except for the polar explorers" - recalls Vyacheslav Kadochnikov.

According to explorers, they are all romantics, so they are looking forward to the moment when they will be at Vostok station again. All the more, their colleagues, who remained there for the wintering, are waiting for them.

"In Antarctica, you feel like a discoverer and often catch yourself thinking that you might be the only person who has stood on that particular piece of Earth," he sums up.