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Arctic RussiaExpeditionsExpeditions 2017

Snowpack changes in Arctic Russia

By May 29, 2017January 30th, 2024No Comments
© Iain Rudkin

Location: Khibiny Mountains, Kola Peninsula, Russia. Lat & Long: 67.639°N, 33.718°E

Leader: Rebecca Vignols   Members: Iain Rudkin, Gareth Rees, Yulia Zaika

Affiliation: Cambridge University, British Antarctic Survey

Dates: 13 April to 19 May 2017


We will collect scientific field data in the Russian Khibiny Mountains. This will enable the study of the spatial and temporal evolution of various snow parameters throughout the melt season: snow extent, snow-water equivalent, density, albedo, grain size, liquid-water content and snow depth. We will stay in the Khibiny Educational and Scientific Station. This is a continuation of our very successful Research in 2016.

Friday April 14: Departure day – we’re off!  Follow us on @RebeccaVignols

Snowpack in Russia Timma

Today we fly to Moscow and will be spending one night in the city. We need to pick up some science kit from Dr Olga Tutubalina, our main contact at Moscow State University, before leaving for the field tomorrow.

Saturday April 15: After a successful collection of our kit yesterday, we flew to Apatity this morning. Apatity is the closest airport to the Khibiny Mountains in which we are undertaking fieldwork. Luckily this year we were be able to land in that airport, unlike in our previous season, in which the plane had to land in Murmansk as a result of low visibility conditions at the Apatity airport! We have just arrived at the Moscow State University station and the plan for the rest of the day is to buy food and unpack.

Sunday April 16: Today’s start was slow, we decided to take the morning off as we have been getting up before 6 for the past 2 days for our flights. We went into the field to start measurements this afternoon – we collected data at 3 snowpits, getting back into the swing of things! The station dog followed us all day and stood guard by all our snowpits. Thankfully, he is much better behaved this year and did not destroy any of our snowpits in an attempt to “save” us. All in all – today was a great day.

This evening, we will work on a draft plan of our measurement sites for the next week based on the weather forecast. These plans will be reassessed each morning based on the daily forecast, and the past few days’ conditions, to make sure all areas visited are safe. As it is the melting season here in the Khibiny Mountains, the risk of avalanche is high, and plans must be made carefully. Tomorrow is the start of our full days in the field!

April 17 to April 24: Last week started off well with two sunny days, before becoming very snowy. Finally, after 5 days of constant snowfall, we saw the return of the sunshine this afternoon. In these eight days, temperatures have drastically changed already, going from -17C on Monday 17th to nearing positive temperatures today (24th) in the sun!

Despite some technical issues with one of our instruments, work is advancing very nicely, and we have made measurements at over 60 snow pits. Working in the same team as last year, we are able to work very efficiently and maximise productivity.

Timma, the station dog, has been following us on all our day trips and has also been providing company in the evenings during data write-up and processing. Iain now grudgingly admits that Timma is “part of the team”!

April 25 to April 30: This week we saw a mix of sun and snow, but constant productivity. Total number of snowpits in 2 weeks: 98!

On April 26th, we climbed the BigWood mountain, as the ski lift we are normally able to use was shut due to high winds. We were able to make measurements at our first locality halfway up the mountain, but once we reached the top, we decided to turn back as the winds were far too strong to do any work on the ridge and peak.

This week’s highlight (April 28th) was witnessing the local avalanche service setting off avalanches on Mount Yuksporr using explosives. You can see the video on Twitter @RebeccaVignols – photos below. This was excellent both in terms of seeing an impressive avalanche, but was also very convenient as we were planning on climbing Yuksporr the following day.

Today, heavy snowfall and wind made their return, meaning we returned to the field station early. We hope the weather clears up for the rest of the week but, more importantly, we hope any precipitation continues as snow and does not turn to rain as the temperatures hover around 0°C.

May 1 to May 8: Since my last update, we’ve had nearly constant snowfall here in the southern Khibiny mountains. This has meant very few albedo measurements could be made, but luckily, all other snow parameters can be measured in any conditions. So the bad weather has not affected our work too greatly.

On a more exciting note, I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Polar-Alpine Botanical Garden-Institute (PABGI) on Thursday (4th) this week! I was very happy to finally meet my collaborators there and to be shown around the grounds which we had walked past many times. PABGI are part of the Kola Science Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and, founded in 1931, were the first Botanical Gardens above the Arctic Circle! Being shown around their greenhouses made for a nice (and warm) change from our daily snowy Arctic scenery!

This week was also quite good in terms of wildlife spotting! We saw many white hares, a buzzard, and, possibly, a small brown deer! Additionally, one of our measurement sites was inaccessible one day due to it having been invaded by a pack of angry dogs, who seemed to be at war with local guard dogs we had seen before.

Running total of snowpits: 141.

May 9 to May 15:: Final week of data collection! This week started with another 6 days of snowy weather but ended in a miraculous two consecutive sunny days! We fully took advantage of the good weather to bring up the number of albedo readings and to enjoy the beautiful mountains. I am glad we had some sun in the last few days, as this is how I will remember Khibiny. On one of the less sunny days this week, we had the opportunity to meet Alexander Volkov of the local avalanche survey. We took skidoos up to their station on top of Aikuaivenchorr, he showed us their met instruments and how they collect data in snowpits. Iain and I then showed our data collection methods, I gave a brief presentation of my work in the station and we discussed potential collaborations. This was a great day and we learned lots about the local avalanche service.

Finally, another success of this last week was finally succeeding at tempting Timma-the-dog into a pit deeper than about 50cm deep! On a very windy day, he let himself be lowered to the bottom of a 2m-deep pit over lunch. We did have to persuade him by leaving some food for him at ground level and building a ramp to our main step about 1m10 deep so he could at least walk down part of the way. He was much happier once in the pit (than out in the strong winds), so we counted it a success.

Final snowpit total: 187 (note: not all fully dug in an attempt to maximize albedo measurements on sunny days).

May 16: Iain left to go back to London, as he needed to be off to work in Svalbard on May 19th. I spent the day packing and preparing for my lecture in Moscow State University.

May 17:  Travel day. Flight from Apatity to Moscow and taxi to hotel followed by more preparation work for my talk.

May 18: Olga Tutubalina met me at 10am at my hotel to walk to the University together. After signing me in, we went up to her office on the 22nd floor. The view of Moscow from the University Building is wonderful. At 11 am, it was time for my talk. The talk lasted 40 minutes with Olga translating into Russian, and this was followed by a 45-minute question and answer session. Both went very well, and many of the questions and comments I received from the audience were very helpful for my work.

Following the talk, I had a series of short meetings with scientists from Moscow State University who wanted to discuss my work, or tell me about theirs. These meetings were also of great interest for my work and I am very grateful to all the people I met for taking the time to talk to me and being so helpful. I then had lunch in one of the five canteens in the University, bought some MSU souvenirs in a gift shop and went to visit the University museum with Olga and two early career scientists, Anne and Timur. Olga then had to go back to work, so Anne and Timur took me on a tour of Moscow, walking from the University to the Kremlin, and on a tour of some Moscow Metro stations. The underground in Moscow is truly beautiful.

May 19: My last day in Russia! I took advantage of the wifi at my airport to do some administrative work in the morning before taking a taxi to airport in the afternoon in preparation for my evening flight back to London. Made it safely back to Heathrow, with the plane landing early.

It is great to be back, but I will miss the field!


© Iain Rudkin © Iain Rudkin