A dozen Arctic researchers are home safe after a bizarre incident transformed a scientific adventure into a survival test. Three days after a sudden uplift of ice demolished most of their research station, North Pole 32, all the crew members were rescued on 6 March.
North Pole 32, about 650 kilometers from the North Pole, between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, was the first new Russian polar station in 12 years. The researchers were dropped off last April for a yearlong stint to study global warming, weather patterns, and interactions between the ocean and atmosphere. But when the they were wrapping up their fieldwork, their world began to fall apart around them. "The moving ice put pressure on the station from three sides simultaneously, causing deep cracks to develop," says station chief Vladimir Sokolov of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St. Petersburg, Russia.
As the cracks spread over the next couple of hours, the researchers calmly moved equipment, food, fuel, and most of their data to more stable ice. Their retreat was not a moment too soon: The shifting ice thrust a huge slab 10 meters into the air; it came crashing down on the abandoned camp, destroying 13 of the 16 buildings.
The researchers could salvage only a few days' worth of food and fuel--and, crucially, their GPS transponders. The station was barely within helicopter range. After weather conditions improved enough for the 6-hour flight, the team was whisked to a rescue base. The stoic researchers insist that their lives were never in danger.
AARI too is putting on a brave face: It's building a new research station for a fresh team in September.
The Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute