Skip to main content

Polar explorers from St. Petersburg Mining University began drilling operations at Vostok station in Antarctica

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад

This season, from the coast to the coldest place on our planet, they traveled on Russian-made all-terrain vehicles: the Burlaks. The vehicles showed themselves in all their glory and allowed them to set a speed record for wheeled vehicles on this route.

On Thursday, January 19 participants of the 68th Russian Antarctic expedition contacted the editorial of Forpost to tell about the first days of their stay in the East. As Alexey Bolshunov, head of the research party at St. Petersburg Mining University, explained, this year due to complicated logistics the start of the season was delayed by almost 2 weeks. Therefore, the polar explorers had no time to bounce back - the staff of Russia's oldest technical university, together with their colleagues from the AARI, began work on the drilling complex immediately after arriving at the station.

"We arrived at Vostok on January 14, at 11 pm, and the next day we already started checking and maintaining the main and auxiliary equipment. It had been mothballed for 11 months in an extremely hostile environment for both humans and equipment, so this is the standard procedure required to ensure safe operations," said Alexey Bolshunov.

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад

As early as January 16, geophysical surveys of the well began: scientists measured temperature and pressure at various depths, as well as diameters of the lower section, and then compared the data with last year's readings, which were obtained before the complex was mothballed and left for St. Petersburg. This allowed us to understand what changes had occurred and what technological steps should be taken to minimize the possibility of emergencies related to the jamming of the drill.

"Just like last year, we carry out drilling operations 24 hours a day, in three shifts. This is a necessary condition in order to ensure the prompt achievement of the maximum possible result in the conditions of a very short season. We face a number of most important tasks. In particular, ice cores sampling from different horizons for their further study at AARI laboratories in order to study the processes of climate change in different historical epochs, as well as field tests aimed at improving the existing technologies of glacier drilling and developing new ones", - Alexey Bolshunov explained.

PhD student of Mining University Dmitry Vasiliev noted that this year the ship "Akademik Fedorov", on board of which the polar explorers arrived in Antarctica, made its way into the Talla Bay, in the area of the coastal Progress station only on January 5. This happened after four days of the hardest passage through shore ice up to 1 meter 80 centimeters thick.

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад

"The unloading of the ship and pumping of fuel continued until 11 January. Naturally, the staff of the Mining University and AARI took part in the work of unloading products and equipment for Vostok station from the ship. They were loaded into containers and delivered by helicopter to the continent, to the place where the sledge-caterpillar traverse was forming," said Dmitry Vasiliev.

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад
Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад

Scientific leader of the Antarctic party of Mining University Sergey Ignatiev said that the column of all-terrain vehicles "Burlak" headed towards the East in the morning of January 12. There was no shortage of vehicles, but the number of drivers, who had to drive a continuous 1360 kilometers long route across the lifeless white desert with no motels or gas stations, was clearly insufficient. Considering that safety rules required that there be two people allowed to drive each car. No one, of course, could do the job alone.

"The transportation was carried out by the drivers of ZapSibGazprom, a construction company that is building a new state-of-the-art wintering complex in the East. In order to transport everyone who was going inland, and it is 12 people from the glacier drill team, which includes employees of the Mountain University and the AARI, as well as 11 from the new wintering team, five all-terrain vehicles were needed. But there are simply no ten Russian drivers in Antarctica. Of course, it would have been possible to swap with resting drivers of other vehicles in the caravan, but it would have taken extra time, which was already lacking. As a result, a more rational decision was made - to put at the wheel polar explorers with C-category driver's license", recalls Sergey Ignatiev.

Russian Scientists Drill World’s Deepest Borehole in Antarctica

Among the representatives of the Mining University, the leading engineer Vyacheslav Kadochnikov, who changed driver twice, had such a license. The first time he drove 150 kilometers in five hours, and the second time he drove 250 kilometers, which took him seven hours.

"Colleagues who rode with me in the same Burlak didn't even notice the driver change, in terms of driving comfort. I haven't sat behind the wheel of a truck in 5 years, but I got it right the first time. By the way, on the way we had several times to change huge, human-sized wheels at minus 40 degrees Celsius because of the broken welds of the rims. But we coped with this task as well, and as a result we set a speed record for wheeled vehicles on the route from Progress station to Vostok. It took us only two and a half days, although we expected to get there in three days at the earliest," emphasized Vyacheslav Kadochnikov.

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад

The university's leading engineer Danil Serbin called this achievement a proof of technological progress. And he reminded that in Soviet times such a trek took more than a month. Even Valdis Pelsh's expedition, which arrived in the East four years ago on cross-country vehicles "Emelya", needed much more time - two weeks.

"When we arrived at the station it was already lights out, so we were not able to communicate with the friends we parted with 11 months ago until the next day. However, the diesel power plant shift team traditionally heated a sauna for us, which certainly contributed to our adaptation to the East and allowed us to get to work without any fuss," says Danil Serbin.

In general, as assured by the polar explorers, acclimatization this season is much less painful precisely because in contrast to previous years they have arrived at the Pole of the cold by land. Of course it would be faster by air but in this case you will be exposed to inhuman burden.

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад

"Last season I worked in Antarctica for the first time and flew to the East on a Basler plane. The flight lasted four hours, without sealing the cabin at an altitude of about 4-5 kilometers. At the same time, the body experiences a shock associated with a sharp drop in pressure due to the fact that we take off on the coast, and land on the ice plateau, which is at 3600 meters above sea level. Of course, this is extremely detrimental to our subsequent adaptation to the conditions of Vostok station, where the oxygen content of the air is much lower than usual, leading to hypoxia and brain cell death. Plus the humidity there is low, about 35%. The Burlaki hike at an average speed of 33 kilometers per hour with a gradual ascent from 0 to 3,600 meters allows your body to gradually adapt to the lowered pressure. As a result headaches on arrival to the East are not so strong, though we could not do without them at all, of course. In general, we can say that acclimatization is easier and faster", - says Vyacheslav Shadrin, postgraduate student of Mining University.

Geologist Nikita Krikun was the only representative of St. Petersburg University who was on the Sixth Continent for the first time this year. His task is not only to work at the drilling site, but also to approve modern geophysical equipment in the harsh conditions of Antarctica. And the answer to the question: is it able to work there with the same efficiency as in a more favorable environment.

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад

"At this stage, I'm not bad at bearing all the difficulties of working at the Cold Pole. At such moments it is important not to forget where you are and not to overestimate your strength. As the saying goes: "The East is a delicate matter". I would like to express my gratitude to my fellow drillers who support me in every way both at work and in everyday life. This is very important, because ice drilling requires constant concentration, especially in the conditions of hypoxia. The price for a mistake is extremely high here, because you don't want to let down the team which received you so warmly, and for the last month you became close and close", sums up Nikita Krikun.

His mission is to create a scientific and technical groundwork for the future. Study of the ecosphere of the eponymous subglacial lake, which has been isolated from the Earth's atmosphere for millions of years, as well as the deep phenomena occurring in the depths of Antarctica and affecting the planet's magnetosphere, and thus climate changes - one of the long-term objectives, which are set before the polar explorers by the St. Petersburg Mining University.

Антарктида
© Форпост Северо-Запад