euro1   71

Tomorrow it will start; My three and a half week expedition to Samoylov Island at the Lena river delta in northernmost Siberia. I will be joining a small but robust group of scientists from AWI, University of Hamburg and St. Petersburg, Russia and trying out what it really takes to be a field researcher.

In my day-to-day management work language I would be moving from the MGT over to RTD for 0,7 PMs to implement tasks under the WP2 T2.5. In this blog I will try to tell you what that really means.


Expedition equipment; sack full of warm clothes, good shoes and a water bottle. Picture: Leena-Kaisa Viitanen

I will team up with Pete (Peter Schreiber) and Niko (Bornemann) from Julia Boike’s group in AWI / Uni Hamburg and conduct a small scale lake measurement campaign, in which I will be sampling biological parameters from the lakes on the Samoylov Island in order to contribute to the understanding of the hydrology system of the island. I will also take a set of aerial pictures, so that Julia and her group will be able to update the hydrological map of the island.

The actual journey to Samoylov starts from Berlin from where we fly through Moscow to Yakutsk. From Yakutsk we will take a flight to Tiksi where we will head to a helicopter, which will take us to our final location on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.

Everything is packed and we are ready to go. The trip will be covering all in all more than 5 5oo km and will take at least a day with a stop in Tiksi.

So long


So, here we are, finally! The journey was long, starting in Berlin at noon on Tuesday and ending on Samoylov Island on Thursday around noon local time, altogether around 45 hours. Everything went though smoothly and now we are all eager to start with work.

We will be around 15 people on the island throughout July.

In addition to me, Pete and Niko, we have in the “AWI group” Hanno Meyer, Gunther Stoof, or Molo as he is called, and Waldemar. In addition we have here Lars Kutzbach from Hamburg, who is also our scientific leader in this trip and PhD students Tim, Nana and Josefine all three also from Hamburg.

In the Russian group we have Olga, Sasha, Natasha and Ira who all come from St. Petersburg.

We spent our first night in Tiksi, waiting to get a helicopter flight to Samoylov. Tiksi is an old military / harbor town, which today hosts around 4000 inhabitants. In the evening we had a nice dinner together cooked by the “boys” enjoying some local delicacies.

In the front Josefine, around the table going clockwise, Tim, Lars, Niko, Sasha, Nana, Pete and Hanno. Picture: Leena-Kaisa Viitanen, AWI

Early next morning we got ready for the helicopter taking us to the island itself. The view, while flying, is quite spectacular and looking around the delta, you really get the feeling that you are in the Arctic. In some parts the snow is still there and some pack ice is still to be found in Lena.

Tiksi from the helicopter. Picture: Leena-Kaisa Viitanen

The next two days or so in Samoylov will go to getting used to the equipment already at the station and preparing the actual work. It means that I will check out the probe for the lake measurements, get assistance in calibrating the necessary sensors and get the helium balloons ready, so that I can start with the aerial pictures as soon as the good weather shows up.

Polygons on the tundra on our way to the island. Picture: Leena-Kaisa Viitanen

Arriving to the new station on Samoylov Island. Picture: Leena-Kaisa Viitanen

Today we had a good long walk around the island. The purpose was just to go around and see loosely what changes might have occurred on the surface since last year and years before.
The Lena River floods regularly in spring time due to massive ice packs that are formed in the mouths of the many channels in the delta, thus blocking the water running normally through for some time. Last spring the Island got close to record flooding and some traces could be detected also on the island ground from that period.
The most spectacular as well as visible features on the ground are though the polygons, which form about two thirds of the island.
Polygonal tundra on Samoylov. Picture: Leena-Kaisa Viitanen
A polygon is a formation on the permafrost ground that is created by the periodical freeze and thaw of the permafrost top layer, in scientific terms called active layer. This active layer thaws over the summer period and freezes again during the winter every year. When frozen, the soil breaks up forming cracks on the ground. In spring, when the ground melts again these cracks get filled with water from melting snow and rain. Some of the water evaporates away during the warmer summer months, but some of it will stay in the cracks until the winter and freeze up forming what is called “ice wedges” below the ground.
Polygon formation. Infographic by PAGE21 / Arctic Portal
The ice wedges are very small in the beginning, only few millimeters in diameter, but they grow with time, when more and more water runs in to the cracks during the melt period. In old polygonal landscapes the ice wedges can actually get very big, or up to many meters in diameter.
On the coasts, where erosion eats up the coast line, the polygons many times fall apart from the mainland ground in one big formation. Exactly this type of land erosion can be found in some places on the coast of Samoylov. In the picture here below is one of the bigger open ice wedges that we found during our walk.
Ice wedge. Picture by Mercedes Molina Gamez, Uni Hamburg.
Ice wedge. Picture by Mercedes Molina Gamez, Uni Hamburg.
Here the river has eroded the land mass underneath the polygon up to the point where the bottom-up support has been so weak that the remaining top layer of the ground has broken up at the edge of the polygon and fallen down revealing the large ice wedge.
The erosion process is very similar as the one described in the info graphic here below, with the exception that here on the island we have no trees and the little infrastructure that has been build, is on locations where the erosion is at the minimum.
Erosion process
Today we had a weather to test our balloon for the aerial pictures.

P1000754.jpg small
The idea is to attach two different cameras to a helium filled balloon and fly them over the island in order to take a mosaic of aerial pictures. These pictures will later on used to compile an orthorectified aerial image of the island which will demonstrate changes on the surface and help in research planning.
This is not the first time the balloon has been flown at the island and our task is to take up to date images, so that the current orthorectified aerial image can be updated and any changes since 2007 can be mapped out.

Flying the balloon is one of my main two tasks. I work together with Molo in this, which is great, since Molo is quite knowledgeable in pretty much of everything here on the island.

While waiting for still weather for the test flight I prepared the cameras, while Molo took care of the balloon. We have two large balloons, but we decided to test if only one large balloon is enough to fly the camera set.

Molo Samoylov2015 2.unnid P1000761.jpg cropped

The flight was quite successful. We had mild north-east wind and could go up to 200 meters with the cameras. The optimal height for the images is 500 meters, so in the next test flight we will go higher and see how the balloon behaves. If all will be ok, I can shoot the first set of pictures over the island.
P1000775.jpg small P1000758.jpg small