Follow an Expedition to the Russian Arctic

We are aboard the Russian ship MS Polaris, in the commercial seaport of Murmansk, in the lush green lands of northern Russia–the same fjord where Russia’s northern fleet is stationed.  In a few hours we’ll be sailing north for three days, to Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world, only 900 km from the North Pole.

Our destination is a wild, weathered wonderland of polar bears, walruses, seals, whales, and large colonies of seabirds. Franz Josef Land encompasses 191 islands, 85 percent of which are covered by glaciers.  In winter, the entire archipelago is locked in ice; on a satellite it looks just like white bumps over a white surface. Today, the permanent ice is just north of Franz Josef Land, and so navigation through the islands without an icebreaker is possible.

This is a narrow time window to go to Franz Josef Land, and we are using it to explore, survey, and document one of the most extraordinary natural treasures on Earth. The goal of this Pristine Seas Expedition is to assess how pristine this Arctic ecosystem is, and the changes it has exhibited since the late 1800s, when the first scientific expeditions visited Franz Josef Land and collected precious baseline scientific data and photographs.  We will re-survey the historical scientific sites, and re-take the historical photographs. And we will dissect the ecosystem from the bottom up, measuring the abundance of everything from the smallest to the largest, from microbes to polar bears and walruses.

Floating on salt water, surrounded by frozen water, one of the most important things to have on the ship is drinkable water. (Photo by Lucie McNeil)
Floating on salt water, surrounded by frozen water, one of the most important things to have on the ship is drinkable water. (Photo by Lucie McNeil)

It’s 11pm but it is so bright that I think it’s noon. The sun never sets in the summer this far north. I look around, and an impressive team of scientists, expedition support team, filmmakers, photographers, and a writer are loading the Polaris, creating our working home for the next five weeks. We have a team of 40 people from the Russkaya Arktika National Park, the Russian Geographical Society, National Geographic Society, and several scientific institutions from Russia, the United States, and Spain. What started as an Arctic dream five years ago is finally becoming a reality. The classic journal of Arctic exploration, Nansen’s “Farthest North” has been required reading for the whole team.

Join us, and get to know the team and our work, as we talk about what expedition life is like, and what we see underwater and on land. Consider yourself the 41st expedition member. We are extremely fortunate to have been permitted to explore such a magical place with our Russian colleagues in the company of great explorers, park managers, and scientists, and hope that you will be part of the adventure.

NEXT: Read All Franz Josef Land 2013 Blog Posts


The Pristine Seas: Franz Josef Land expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water. 


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Meet the Author
Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.