The position of the MOSAiC expedition on 24th September 2019. Map by

As the «Polarstern» enters Russian Arctic waters, military activity in area is on historical high

Just few days before international Arctic expedition MOSAiC crossed into the waters south of Franz Josef Land, the Northern Fleet held a major shooting exercise in the area.
September 24, 2019


The MOSAiC, the biggest expedition of its kind ever, on Friday set out from Tromsø, Norway, and four days later sailed across the Barents Sea and into the northern parts of the Kara Sea.

By late 24th September, expedition vessel «Polarstern» had made it to 79,5 degrees North, to waters located between the archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Severnaya Zemlya.

It is a region with an increasing military presence. Russia has built and upgraded several military bases in the area and the Nagurskoye base in the Franz Josef Land is now among the most potent military forces in the whole High Arctic.

Military exercise

Only few days ahead of the arrival of the «Polarstern» to the waters south of Franz Josef Land, three major Russian naval vessels conducted a big shooting exercise in the area. Anti-submarine vessel «Vice-Admiral Kulakov» and big landing ships «Kondopoga» and «Aleksandr Otrakovsky» trained air defense combat and applied several kinds of weaponry, including the nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile Kinzhal.

They also trained radio-electronic warfare, the Northern Fleet informs.

In addition to the more comprehensive training activities, the Northern Fleet has also stepped up its patrolling in the area.



Northern Fleet training near Franz Josef Land. Photo:

Northern Fleet inspections

On the 21st of September, the «Vice-Admiral Kulakov» took action against the small sailing vessel «Pangaea» that was on its way through the area. An inspection of ship documents was conducted and the ship subsequently allowed to proceed its Arctic voyage

The “Pangaea” started its voyage in Alaska and sailed into the Arctic from the Bering Strait side with the aim to drop off the two famous explorers Mike Horn and Børge Ousland. They are supposed to ski from about 86 degrees North across the North Pole and to be picked up again by “Pangaea” on the European side of the Arctic later this fall.

The Northern Fleet recently also took action against a commercial ship in the Kara Sea. Cargo vessel «S. Kuznetsov» was halted by marines after suspicions of shipping violations. The action against the ship took place on the 13th September north of the Taymyr Peninsula.


The navy ship Vice-Admiral Kulakov” stops the small sailing boat “Pangaea” between the archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya. Photo: Russian Northern Fleet

Entering the ice

No egangement by the Russian Navy against the «Polarstern» has been reported. The expedition media service on 23rd September reported stable progress towards icy waters. But the expedition team experiences strong winds and up to four meter high waves, a tweet informs.

On board the «Polarstern» are more than 120 people, including several teams of researchers that have been preparing for the voyage for several years. It is the most comprehensive Arctic expedition ever, with a total budget of more than €140 million.

The ship, a German-built icebreaker operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), will sail deep into the ice and subsequently drift with the ice for a whole year.

In the course of the expedition, up to 600 experts will be on board the vessel, and be exchanged in phases. In addition, around 300 people will work in the background to make the expedition possible.


The MOSAiC expedition. Photo of presentation by Atle Staalesen


Representatives of 19 countries take part in the MOSAiC.

Four icebreakers from Russia, Sweden and China will assist the «Polarstern» in the course of the year. Among them will the new Chinese icebreaker «Xue Long 2». In spring 2020, a landing strip will be built on the Arctic ice, to serve German research aircrafts Polar 5 and Polar 6.

The MOSAiC will contribute to a quantum leap in our understanding of the coupled Arctic climate system and its representation in global climate models, lead scientist Markus Rex said in a presentation in May 2019.


Markus Rex is leading scientist at the MOSAiC. Photo: Atle Staalesen



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