Russian Scientists from Arctic Floating University 2023 Expedition Use Drones to Collect Pollution Data Off Novaya Zemlya for First Time

For the first time ever, Russian researchers had the opportunity to employ UAVs for the collection of data on debris along the coast of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean during the Arctic Floating University 2023 Scientific and Educational Expedition. The research was carried out between 23 June and 15 July on the Professor Molchanov vessel as part of the plan for Russia’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021–2023. Chairmanship events are being managed by the Roscongress Foundation.

“During the expedition, researchers from the Russian State Hydrometeorological University dismantled, counted, and classified marine debris by type of polymer product and other material. Researchers from the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences used drones to take high-resolution images of the areas surveyed that will later be used in conjunction with neural networks to determine the amount of garbage present. It is the first time work of this kind has been carried out in the Russian Arctic,” Project Head and Director of the Institute of Strategic Arctic Development at Northern (Arctic) Federal University Alexander Saburov said.

The study focused primarily on biodiversity, pollution of the Arctic seas and island territories with marine debris, microplastics, and organic and inorganic pollutants, and the hydrometeorological situation in the seas of the Arctic Ocean. The expedition departed from Arkhangelsk. The Professor Molchanov vessel passed through the waters of the islands of Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, in particular the Kolguev, Salm, and Cape Zhelaniya islands. The expedition covered all the largest island territories of the Barents Sea, including those inhabited by the small ethnic communities native to the area.

Besides studying garbage in the marine environment, research conducted during the 2023 expedition had a new focus: measurements of the underwater noise caused by the Professor Molchanov research vessel to substantiate and develop domestic standards for civil marine technology.

As the specialists were engaged in studying Arctic biodiversity, they were also able to obtain demographic information for all 10 seabird indicator species in the Barents Sea. They were able to gather samples of zooplankton in the Barents and Kara Sea coastal zone and insects at the expedition’s landing points, conduct floral surveys at the landing points, and secure samples for herbarium and educational collections. Researchers took samples of seawater and cellulose-containing materials in search of cold-resistant cellulose-degrading bacteria and successfully obtained strains and genetic sequences that will have biotechnological significance in recycling polymer composites through biodegradation – the most natural and environmentally friendly way.

Other research of practical importance includes the testing of a small-class remote-controlled unmanned underwater vehicle, a new method of complex technical diagnostics using modern equipment, the study of space weather factors in the polar regions of Earth’s lower orbit that could impact failures in small spacecraft, and research of a social nature. In the course of their work, scientists collected data on living conditions, quality of life, and the unique characteristics and evolution of the indigenous population’s way of life with an eye to the impact of changing ecosystems. They also studied the current state of tundra reindeer herding on the islands of Kolguyev and Vaygach. Finally, the results of psychophysiological studies conducted during the expedition will be applied to ensure that participants in future voyages are able to psychologically adapt more successfully to extreme climatic and social conditions and group activities.

55 people took part in the expedition, including 22 students and graduate students from Russian scientific and educational institutions and organizations. Among them are Lomonosov Northern (Arctic) Federal University, Russian State Hydrometeorological University, Northern State Medical University, Lomonosov Moscow State University, the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, St. Petersburg State University, and other organizations. The expedition’s educational programme consisted of 50 lectures and practical experience.

The Arctic Floating University 2023 Project has been held since 2012 and aims to provide new knowledge about the state of the ecosystems of coastal Arctic territories and changes therein, train young specialists in Arctic professions, promote Russian scientific, historical, cultural, and natural heritage in the Arctic nationally and internationally, and promote polar-related jobs among young people. The expedition was held with the support of the Russian Geographical Society, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and the Arctic, VTB Bank, Novatek, Norilsk Nickel, and the government of the Arkhangelsk Region.