Arctic Research Station Evacuated After Ice Melts Underneath It

Research at Russia's North Pole-40, a station located aboard an ice floe in the Arctic, has ceased following an emergency evacuation of personnel. The ice upon which the station was built had begun to melt at an alarming rate and split into six pieces.

According to ITAR-TASS, a Russian news agency, North Pole-40 had been constructed in October 2012 with the expectation of working through September 2013. Those plans were scrapped in late May, however, after its foundation began melting and the research was quite literally put on thin ice.

It’s a huge loss for us, and for science,” said Vladimir Sokolov, the expedition's director, in an interview with The Washington Post. “For us, it is very important to get information about the climate system in the high-latitude Arctic.”

Not only had the 16-person station been evacuated prematurely, Sokolov added, but it also had been constructed later than planned. Researchers initially had a difficult time locating an ice floe large enough for the operation.

Discovery News notes the the ice's destruction can be blamed on a near record-breaking high pressure system above the Canada Basin of the Arctic, where the station had been located. High winds helped push and fracture the floe more than 186 miles in a month.

As explained in a release from Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Scientific Research Institute, translated from Russian by The Huffington Post:

In the month of May, due to abnormal natural processes, the Arctic ice floe, on which the research station was deployed, split [into six separate parts.] The relocation of the SP-40's personnel was impossible.

The vicinity of an ocean current known as the Beaufort gyre, the release continues, is characterized by "an increased dynamism of drifting ice" which leads to the formation of cracks, splits and hummocking of the ice.

Russia and The Soviet Union have launched a floating research expedition every year since 1937, reports RIA Novosti, a Russian news service, which adds that finding suitable ice floes has become increasingly more difficult as a result of climate change.

In stark contrast to North Pole-40, North Pole-22, a Soviet station that launched in September 1973, conducted research through April of 1982 -- a stretch of more than eight and a half years.

But it isn't just ice melt in the Arctic that's indicative of a fast-warming climate. A NASA campaign by the name of Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) has documented unprecedented thawing of permafrost in the region as well.

This is particularly alarming, explained Charles Miller, one of the research scientists involved in CARVE, as the permafrost there is estimated to contain close to half of the carbon stored in Earth's soil, a news release states. (For perspective, that's about five times more carbon than has been emitted by human activities since 1850.)

"As heat from Earth's surface penetrates into permafrost," Miller added in a media release, "it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic's carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming."

In statement that rings true for both permafrost and shrinking ice floes, Miller says, "Climate change is already happening in the Arctic, faster than its ecosystems can adapt. Looking at the Arctic is like looking at the canary in the coal mine for the entire Earth system."



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