Franz Josef Land Expedition: “Exceeding Every Expectation”

Splintered and overgorwn stone at Rubini Rock rocks. Photo by Andrey Kamenev.
Splintered and overgrown stone at Rubini Rock rocks. Photo by Andrey Kamenev.

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off to explore Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world, only 900 km from the North Pole. Home to polar bears, whales, seals and more, the team will investigate how global warming may be affecting this crucial ecosystem in ways we still do not fully comprehend.  Follow his adventures throughout the month.

By Lucie McNeil, Expedition Team Member

Our team has been stunned by Tikhaya (meaning “calm”) Bay’s natural masterpiece- the mighty, basaltic Rubini Rock (pictured) which has hosted all our time here with a fine cacophony of charming seabird song – it’s the largest breeding bird colony of the archipelago, with little auks and Brunnich guillemots housing the biggest net assemblies. The little auks (pictured) are a key study for our scientists, their place in the Arctic marine community a critical key in its ecosystem. Vulnerable bright lichens and mosses, and lush green summer flowers and grasses cover the walls and mesa top. With its nesting areas, our scientists think it’s very special.

Enric, Maria, Paul Rose and Alexander discuss tonight's overnight route to Cape Flora. Photo by Lucie McNeil.
Enric, Maria, Paul Rose and Alexander discuss tonight’s overnight
route to Cape Flora. (Photo courtesy Lucie McNeil)

Opposite Rubini is the Tikhaya (formerly Krenkel) seasonal station, once fully operational as a permanent domestic Soviet base from 1929 – 1959, it is now predominantly a monument to an older life in the most remote of places.

Tikhaya has been a rich early source of comparative material from expeditions past for some incredible historical photographic reconstructions of the islands, showing just how much the landscape has changed. We know there’s more at Cape Flora- as Enric said tonight at the team debrief, “It’s really quite incredible how much scientific data and footage we have now, from just one area on our route. Franz Josef Land is already exceeding our expectations.”


Little Auks (black and white birds, close up). Photo by by Andrey Kamenev
Little Auks (black and white birds, close up). (Photo by Andrey Kamenev)
Birds perch on Rubini Rock cliffs. Photo by Andrey Kamenev.
Rubini rocks ‘organ pipe’ structure. (Photo by Andrey Kamenev)
Russian geomorphologists Fedor and Katerina survey Rubini on a hike. Photo by Andrey Kamenev.
Russian geomorphologists Fedor and Katerina survey Rubini on a hike. (Photo by Andrey Kamenev)


Eye to eye with a walrus. Photo by Enric Sala.
Eye-to-eye with a walrus. (Photo by Enric Sala)

By Enric Sala, Expedition Team Leader

Walruses have a bad reputation of being aggressive and attacking small boats, but today, nothing could have been farther from the truth. Today we let our zodiac drift near a walrus rookery, and groups of adult females like the one in the photo came to check us out, very curious but also very tender, grabbing the babies and taking them away when they became too interested in us. Spending time with the walruses was a magic moment. Franz Josef Land is a wild place, one of the last to see these wonders of nature.

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.