Amphibious Trilogies

On the good ship Professor Molchanov

It’s the 22nd of June, the long awaited launch of the Arctic Floating University Expedition 2019, an annual expedition where experienced researchers and students will be studying the Arctic through common lectures and practical marine research, on ship, on sea on shore. Andrew is on his way back to Oslo. Brynar and I are about to cast off on the three week journey from Arkhangelsk to Svalbard archipelago and back on a ice-fortified steel ship.

At last, the formal ceremony outside the Northern (Arctic)Federal University (NArFU) comes to an end. After a long wait and a bumpy ride on small coaches to a commercial dock, north of NArFU both alongside the Northern Dvina River, the 57 participants and the crew of 17 came together on the 37 year old R/V Professor Molchanov.

Participating are post-graduate students and research fellows of both Russian and foreign scientific and academic institutions. During the three-week journey from Arkhangelsk to Svalbard and back the good ship Prof. Molchanov will be ‘home’ through the thick and the thin. With the exception of the captain, the organisers and possibly VIPs, everyone shares a cabin, hierarchically appointed, from the top levels (individual suites, 2 berthed cabins with bathrooms) to the bottom levels (students and crew with dormitory-like cabins, communal toilets and showers).

Several hours have passed since we have boarded the ship. People, both on ship and on shore, are waiting for the expedition to begin. We are surrounded by sounds and smells. The crew are still preparing for the embarkation. The engines are on, the noise contributes to neighbouring ships, some thunder claps and bursts of wind. The smell of oil and diesel exhaust is quite overwhelming.

Before boarding we were given some practical information. For example, the default day for a participant goes like this. Breakfast 07.30-08.30 hrs. Lectures 09.00-11.00. Lunch 11.30-12.30 hrs. Lectures 13.30-15.30. Coffee, tea and cakes 16.00. Dinner 19.00-20.00 hrs. All meals are served in the two dining rooms on the second level, while lectures are held in the multipurpose bar on the third level.

The multidisciplinary educational programme covers lectures and training in practical marine research, on ship, on sea, on shore. Institutes and subjects are listed below.
– Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, St. Petersburg, Oceanography and Meteorology
– St. Petersburg State University, Arctic Politics
– IMEMO, Russian Academy of Sciences, Arctic Law
– University of Geneva, Soviet Science and Methane Resources
– German Society for Polar Research, Russian Polar History
– NArFU, Space Monitoring Systems, Social Sciences in Arctic
– Kurchatov Institute, Microbiology

Hang on a minute. Our artistic contribution to the educational programme is nowhere to be seen. I suspect that artistic research does not fit in to the scientific agenda. A disappointed. And as Andrew has mention in a previous post, I still feel frustrated about the sudden change of the route. I really did want to go the northeast beyond Svalbard, and not in the least to experience the archipelago Novaya Zemlya from where the Russian legislated Northern Sea Route (NSR) stretches out to the Bering Strait in the east. Why was the route changed? This is a question that I will persue on the journey. Perhaps this a job for Octopa.

Putting aside these issues, let’s get back to the launch of the expedition. Families and friends are still waiting on the shore to wave their dear ones off. The Professor’s engines rumble along with the sound of distant rolling thunder. The ship’s horn sounds as a tug boat with immaculate precession draws the ship out into the slim deep channel of the Northern Dvina River. The sun is shining. All negative feelings are washed away. “Hip hip hooray. We are on our way.”


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