National Geographic : 2014 Aug
Franz Josef Land 99 the islands. That presence diminished to a tiny remnant during the 1990s, but now increased thawing, new sea routes, and economic consid- erations are bringing renewed attention to this area by the Russian government. For a month we zigzag through the archipel- ago, drawn here and there by opportunity and driven by weather, escaping the winds that push the brash ice and the bergs, going ashore when the polar bears let us, admiring the walruses and the ivory gulls and the bowhead whales, gathering data in places where few data have ever been gathered. We are 800 nautical miles north of the Arctic Circle. Our ship is the Polaris, a refitted tour- ist vessel with closets converted to laboratories, microscopes on dining tables, and an entire sa- lon filled with scuba gear, including dry suits to protect our divers from water at 30°F (minus 1°C). The team includes Russians, Americans, Spaniards, Britons, one Australian, and a couple of Frenchmen. Each day some of us go ashore on the latest island near which we’ve anchored, to walk transects, band birds, count walruses, or collect plants, while others dive the cold wa- ter to take inventory of marine microbes, algae, invertebrates, and fish. The walking days are sometimes long, but we’re always back at the ship before dark, because dark never comes. The sun doesn’t set; it just loops around irreso- lutely in the northern sky. The dives are short but dauntingly cold, even for a man wearing Daria Martynova, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, samples the water column to monitor the diversity of copepods—tiny crustaceans crucial to the food webs of the Arctic Ocean.