New Antarctic Research Plan for Russia

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by Tom Parfitt on 19 November 2010, sciencemag.org
Original article here

MOSCOW—Russia is planning to launch five new polar research ships as part of a $975 million effort to reassert its presence in Antarctica over the next decade.

According to a government strategy document that lays out priorities for development around the South Pole until 2020, Moscow will also reconstruct five research stations and three seasonal bases there.

The document identifies improved monitoring of climate change, increased geological and geophysical study of mineral and hydrocarbon resources, extension of the GLONASS satellite navigation system, and assessment of fisheries as key objectives.

“Physical and moral wear-and-tear of the expeditionary Antarctic infrastructure” must be addressed in order for Russia to “systematically develop an influential presence” in the region, it says.

The first Soviet expedition to the Antarctic region was in 1955, and a first all-season scientific research station, Mirny, was built by the coast the following year. Over the next 3 decades, seven more stations were built (Vostok, Novolazarevskaya, Molodyozhnaya, Bellingshausen, Leningradskaya, Russkaya, and Progress).

Russia inherited the Soviet bases in 1991, but funding for polar research was scarce during the turbulent economic changes of the following decade. The new strategy document, approved at the end of October, says Moscow must work with other countries to preserve “peace and stability” in Antarctica. It stresses, however, that Russia must be poised to take advantage of natural resources in the event of a territorial carve-up.

One of the authors of the strategy was Valery Lukin of the Arctic and Antarctic Scientific Research Institute in St. Petersburg. He told the Izvestia newspaper the plans included the completion of the research ship Akademik Treshnikov, now being built in St. Petersburg, and the construction of four other vessels.

Artur Chilingarov, the polar explorer and Russia’s international representative on cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic, said in September that the launch of the 134-meter, 17,000-ton Akademik Treshnikov would be a “great event.” Scientists currently rely on a similar-sized ship, the 23-year-old Akademik Fedorov, for reaching and supplying bases at both poles.

The development strategy to 2020 also includes construction of an airstrip and commissioning of an Il-114-100T aircraft with a wheel-ski undercarriage.

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