South with Russia

During the 2007–08 summer Sandra Potter experienced another side of Antarctica — geographically and culturally — on the vessel supporting Russia’s national Antarctic research program.

Most Antarctic expeditioners return from their voyages brimming with memories of their encounters with ice, wildlife, wild seas and surreal sunsets. My two months aboard the RV Akademic Fedorov were memorable more so on account of the different cultural and operational experiences thrown into the equation. These included: finding my place in a community who, for the most part, did not speak much English or who could not navigate through my accent; the same designated seating for every one of our 200-plus meals onboard; a diet with which I sometimes struggled; flights in a helicopter able to carry up to 30 personnel; a six-day diversion to evacuate an expeditioner through McMurdo; a dozen or so clock changes as we sailed through 230o of longitude; visiting the primary school at Chile’s Presidente Eduardo Frei station; working with the distraction of the ship-board ‘paparazzi’ as seemingly constant companions; blessings by the priest who was enroute to Bellingshausen station and its ‘Antarctic Holy Trinity Patriarch Cathedral of The Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra'; and Australia Day, Women’s Day and Military Day celebrations toasted with vodkas and pork fat chasers.

Akademic Fedorov is 141 m long and was built in Finland in 1987. Onboard were 78 crew and 75 expeditioners (the 94 m RSV Aurora Australis has a crew of about 21). As part of an International Polar Year research program led by the Australian Antarctic Division's Dr Graham Hosie, (Australian Antarctic Magazine 13: 12), I deployed a continuous plankton recorder behind the ship. The 1300 nautical miles of samples obtained from between 64oS 174oW and 64oS 152oW, and 69oS 96oW and 68oS 76oW include samples believed to be the first collected from the Amundsen Sea and Bellinghausen Sea. Previous surveys have mostly been restricted to the region between 60 and 160oE.

No less importantly, my participation also gave me the opportunity to gain a first-hand appreciation of the aspirations and logistical challenges faced by other national Antarctic programs. The voyage was the second leg of the 53rd Russian Antarctic Expedition and made the first visits in 17 years to Leningradskaya and Russkaja stations. Leningradskaya is perched on the edge of a cliff 300m above sea level on the Oates Land Coast. Russkaja is located in Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica. At about the time of the stations’ last occupation the Russian program’s budget had plummeted almost 10-fold.

After the condition of the stations was assessed and new meteorological and geodetic equipment installed, we headed to the Antarctic Peninsula to resupply Bellingshausen, one of eight stations making up 'suburban' King George Island. Our track took us via the coast of Ellsworth Land to enable the 14-member Korean team onboard to undertake reconnaissances of the islands and nunataks of the Canesteo Peninsula and Hudson Mountains region. These flights were made with the view to selecting a site for Korea's second Antarctic station.

The long periods at sea also provided opportunities for Victor Pomelov, the Russian Antarctic Expedition’s Environmental Manager, and I, to exchange ideas on environmental protection matters. We were able to progress the development of quarantine measures for the Larsemann Hills Antarctic Specially Managed Area. The measures proposed have since been endorsed by the other Antarctic Treaty parties active in the region; namely China, India and Romania. The result appears to be Antarctica’s first multilateral, regional quarantine arrangement.

Senior Environmental Policy Advisor, AAD

Sandra Potter’s work in the Australian Antarctic Division has spanned logistics, environmental policy and research activities. Prior to working on environment protection issues, Sandra was part of the Division’s shipping and air operations team and has led or otherwise participated in 12 marine science and resupply voyages to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic.