THE FIRST "DIRECTOR OF RUSSIAN ARCTIC REGIONS"

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Опубликовано в библиотеке: 2021-09-18
Источник: Science in Russia, №3, 2011, C.70-76

by Nikolai VEKHOV, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), Russian Research Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage of the RF Ministry of Culture

 

In 1873 the Austro-Hungarian expedition headed by Julius Payer, a lieutenant in the fleet, and Karl Weyprecht, a geophysicist, discovered an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in the north of the Barents Sea. Its existence was predicted a bit earlier by the computation method by our scientist-encyclopaedist prince Pyotr Kropotkin. The pathfinders named the discovered land after emperor Francis Joseph, who was on the throne in Vienna at that time. Ten years later the world's first International Polar Year was held on the initiative of Weyprecht. Russia was among twelve participating countries that established 13 observation stations in Arctic and Antarctic regions. Two Russian stations carried on studies on Novaya Zemlya and the Sagastyr Island in the Lena river mouth.

 

That time mankind for Arctic regions. The scientific and business world of the countries interested in its study rushed to finance large-scale operations in Greenland, on the Canadian Arctic Islands, Franz Joseph Land, and the Spitsbergen Archipelago. The scope, expenditures, equipment of the conducted expeditions and their wide press coverage amaze even today, though the obtained results proved to be too small compared with efforts made. But such boom was quite natural as everything was new, the nature of the north concealed scores of mysteries, but in those days nobody had any idea of such studies.

 

Our country joined in this race too. It could not be other way as Russia possessed marginal lands of several thousand

 
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kilometers long looking directly onto Arctic regions. However, the vast and difficult to traverse distances were a kind of obstacle in getting to know the region. Nerverthe-less, the national idea of mastering the North mainly formed by the end of the 19th century due to the efforts of major national theorists and practical workers, first of all, the versatile scientist and author of the periodic table, Corresponding Member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1876) Dmitry Mendeleev* and an outstanding naval expert, oceanographer, navigator and shipbuilder, Vice-Admiral Stepan Makarov.

 

The activities of enthusiasts of Arctic studies from different circles of Russian society resulted in building of the first icebreaking fleet of the world, such as the Yermak, Taimyr and Vaigach, comprehensive studies of the northern seas, the first in our country academic polar expedition headed by baron Eduard Toll** in 1900-1902 and also the Hydro-graphical expedition, which discovered the Land of Emperor Nicholas II (today Severnaya Zemlya) in 1914. Scientists and explorers had grand plans, but they failed due to the outbreak of World War 1 (1914-1918) and later on the Civil War ( 1918-1922).

 

However, after the wars were over, attention was focused again on the national level of implementation of the given program. At that time, the national economy, especially industrial and agricultural regions, were ruined by the wars, and attention was drawn to the North as a promising raw materials area. Moreover, Norway, Great Britain, the USA and Canada laid claims to our open and unprotected territories, such as the Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, Severnaya Zemlya and Wrangel Island. At this particular time, there was appearing a "scientific star" of Rudolf Samoilovich, whose leadership in studies and mastering of Arctic regions continued for two decades and came to a tragic end in 1939.

 

The scientist was born in 1881 in a trading quarter of Azov on the coast of the Sea of Azov. As many other future travelers, he spent his childhood at berths watching ships coming and unloading. He was also fond of books, namely, adventure novels by Walter Scott, Jules Verne, Mayne Reid, Fenimore Cooper, etc. After graduation from a grammar school, he entered in the physics and mathematics department of the Novorossiisk University in Odessa, then he went to Freiburg (Germany), graduated from the Mining Academy and returned to Russia in 1905.

 

Later on Samoilovich was deported to the Archangelsk Province for participation in revolutionary activities, where he started his acquaintance with that high-latitude region. The first three years of studies resulted in his article on unique gypseous caves in the Pinega district, which was

 

See: L. Bondarenko, "Mendeleev: the Beginning", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2003.--Ed.

 

** See: V. Glushkov, "Sannikov Land: Fact or Fiction?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2004.--Ed.

 

published in "News of the Archangelsk Society for Studies of the Russian North" in 1909. It was cooperation with this peculiar "people's academy", which helped the young man get into a circle of experts of the Polar Region, which at that time still remained in many ways terra incognita.

 

In 1912, the tsarist government was anxious about activities of Great Britain and Norway, which turned their attention to the polar Spitsbergen Archipelago (the ancient Slavic name is Grumant)* with its main wealth coal reserves. Russia also intended to claim its rights to its share, as Russian coast-dwellers were engaged in sea animal trade on the archipelago for more than two centuries, and, like foreign competitors, Russia planned to mark its intentions by special poles (the country, which installed greater number of poles, received the biggest territory).

 

Vladimir Rusanov, a graduate of Sorbonne University in Paris, a member of the Archangelsk Society for Studies of the Russian North and a polar geologist, who took part in arctic expeditions more than once, was appointed head of the expedition to the conflict region. He included Samoilovich into the group going to the Spitsbergen Archipelago. There Samoilovich, accompanied by a sailor, inspected the coast, where Russian poles were to be installed.

 

See: V. Starkov, "Who Discovered Spitsbergen?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1994.--Ed.

 
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Impressions of Rudolf Samoilovich from his first meeting with the local fantastic nature proved to be so strong, that they determined his attitude to Arctic regions for all his life: "A majestic view opened before your eyes. The high mountains and rocky peaks went up skywards, and cutting through flows of clouds like a veil, now opened their sharp outlines, then gave fabulous shapes to them. Between the mountains, mighty glaciers shined in the sun with their snow-white surfaces, and their wide streams descended to the sea in the form of powerful and forever frozen rivers. The mountain foot surrounded by glaciers merged with the sea, and their peaks covered with clouds gave an impression as if patches of land were thrown up to air space by some inhuman hand and are softly swaying between the sky and earth."

 

After completing his part of studies, Samoilovich and two of his colleagues returned to the continent by order of Rusanov, and thus saved their lives. Rusanov together with other members of the expedition and the crew of his Hercules schooner moved eastwards, doubled Novaya Zemlya and disappeared in obscurity.

 

The studies carried out by Rudolf Samoilovich on Spitsbergen in 1912 resulted in maps of the coastal area of the islands, samples of rocks and fossils, and description of dry land. The main conclusions drawn by him after the collected material was analyzed related to commercial reserves of minerals and the geological structure of the archipelago. Businessmen were quick at responding to such conclusion of the scientist. He wrote later: "An industrial society was established, which was to deal with prospecting and, in future, development of Spitsbergen coal deposits. I was invited as a mining engineer by the board." In 1913, Samoilovich again visited the archipelago. Together with the geographer and geologist Pavel Wittenburg he inspected several deposits and found out that they deserved development and the total reserves of

 
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raw materials on the archipelago exceeded 4 bin tons. Twenty years later this information became essential for setting up of coal production, which is carried out, by the way, by Arktikugol company today.

 

In the years of World War I, Samoilovich took part in geological works in the north of Karelia, where he discovered a commercial deposit of muscovite (a mineral used in the electrotechnical industry)*. In 1919, he participated in the expedition, which inspected the Pechora river valley with a view to mobilize all natural resources for the war-devastated Russia. The next year he addressed a meeting of the Special Food Commission of the Northern Front and was appointed its academic secretary. He had contacts both with specialists and interested organizations, which predetermined many of his really great achievements in the future.

 

Soon the commission was reorganized to the Northern Scientific and Trade Expedition headed by Samoilovich, and the geologist and President of the USSR Academy of Sciences Academician Alexander Karpinsky was appointed chairman of its scientific council. The high state importance of this new office was confirmed not only by the scale of funds appropriated by the country government for its organization, but also the names of its staff including the mineralogist Academician Alexander Fersman**, hydrobiologist and oceanologist Konstantin Deryugin,

 

See: L. Kuleshevich, "History Silent, Stones Speak", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2010.--Ed.

 

** See: R. Balandin, "Poetry in Stone". Science in Russia, No. 6, 2003.--Ed.

 

Dr. Sc. (Biol.), geographer, oceanologist and cartographer (honorary member of the USSR Academy of Sciences from 1939) Yuli Shokalsky, zoologist and Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences from 1923 Alexei Byalynitsky-Biruli, etc.

 

The said expedition combined scientific and economic activities in the Russian North, from the Finnish and Norwegian borders to the Ural Mountains. However, as to Samoilovich, who together with Rusanov had already got to know the "taste of victory" on Spitsbergen, he was captivated by Novaya Zemlya with Barents and Kara seas, washing it, though insufficiently studied at that time. It was required to point out the Soviet presence in that part of the Arctic Ocean, which remained surprisingly "ownerless" (there was no delimitation of its major part to the state sectors at that time), and to claim our rights to it.

 

In 1921-1927, Samoilovich organized annual expeditions to Novaya Zemlya. The seven-year painstaking work resulted in preparation of maps of its almost unexplored eastern part and refined plans of its western part, description of the coasts and immediate offshore zones, unique information on local geology, botany, zoology, climate and glaciology. Besides, we should do justice to bravery of the scientist and his coworkers, who traveled by small unsea-worthy "tubs" (we cannot call otherwise the Grumant motor-sailing boat about 9 m long with a low-power engine, which developed the speed of about 9.5 km/h) around the whole archipelago, where they were threatened to be crushed by blocks of ice every minute.

 
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Simultaneously, from 1921, on the Kola Peninsula* the expedition parties sought ways for setting up canning business, explored deposits of coal, oil and areas for deer breeding in the territory of the modern Republic of Komi** and inspected the route of the Murmansk railway for the purpose of using the natural resources of the adjacent territories in the national economy. All these activities were coordinated by Samoilovich, who headed at times different exploration trends, raised money, equipment, transport, resolved a lot of bureaucratic problems and studied all kinds of details. Besides, he had to publish his works, which are classical even today for those, who strive to learn the high-latitude region of our planet, which keeps its secrets to the present day.

 

By 1924, the Northern Scientific and Trade Expedition outgrew the framework of a departmental agency by its volume and high scientific level of performed works, and it

 

See: N. Vekhov, "Russian Lapland", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011.--Ed.

 

** See: A. Askhabov, A. Samarin, " Scientific Center in the North-East of Europe". Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011.--Ed.

 

was reorganized into the Institute of Northern Studies. It was headed by Samoilovich, already known as a talented organizer, able to resolve the most complex problems and to find a way at times out of abnormal situations abundant in the Polar Region thanks to his self-control and accumulated experience.

 

All these qualities of the "Arctic director" proved to be important, when in 1928, not far from the Spitsbergen Archipelago, the Italia airship suffered a catastrophe with an international crew aboard under command of the Italian designer and polar explorer general Umberto Nobile, who was on his way to the continent after reaching the North Pole. The expedition organized by the USSR and headed by Samoilovich, on the Krasin icebreaker equipped with a search and rescue aircraft, discovered and brought to the continent the aeronauts, who were on the verge of dying*. Moreover, the expedition entered such high latitudes, which only the Yermak

 

* See: Yu. Belchich, "Director of Arctic" Rescues "Italia", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2003.--Ed.

 
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icebreaker of the vice-admiral Stepan Makarov visited in 1901. Thus, Samoilovich proved the correctness of using in that region the ships capable of overcoming ice obstacles, which predetermined their use in future in the course of exploitation of the Northern Sea Route.

 

After the above rescue operations Samoilovich undertook a number of business trips abroad and in the USSR, where he made reports and speeches on the Krasin expedition. The audience listened to him with profound interest in Vienna, Prague, Brno, Stuttgart, Paris, Stockholm and other big cities of Europe, which fostered the growth of his international reputation. Soon large-scale activities started on the Franz Josef Land. As before, the real cause of a keen interest of the state in the desolate islands covered with eternal ice was not purely scientific, it was political, as in the 1920s Norway laid claim to the islands referring to the fact that its hunters were annually engaged in hunting in that region. The USSR government sent an expedition headed by Samoilovich to the conflict area to mark its presence on the archipelago.

 

On July 29, 1929, the USSR national flag went up on the Hooker Island of the Franz Josef Land (this signified its joining the USSR) launched by polar explorers headed by Samoilovich on the Sedov icebreaker. The icebreaker brought also materials for construction of the first scientific station in that region (it was built soon on the bank of Tikhaya Bay) and a team of winterers, who were to make different observations including regular meteorological ones. They carried out hydrological and biological studies, conducted geological surveying, described the archipelago territories, which they managed to approach by ship, and collected material for ice forecasts.

 

The studies of the Franz Josef Land continued the next year. Besides, a visit to the almost unknown Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago took place again for a political purpose, i.e. joining the USSR (though as early as in 1914, Russia announced its rights to this part of land, when it was discovered by the expedition headed by the hydrogra-pher, geodesist and polar explorer Boris Vilkitsky). The scientists established its western limits and collected basic data for ice forecasts of the region. On both archipelagoes they built strong points, carried out a topographical survey, studied the relief, geology of ground rocks, sea bottom, totality of plant communities, the animal world, while in the eastern part of the Kara Sea they discovered a new archipelago, and named it after the oceanologist, meteorologist and historian of exploration of Arctic regions Vladimir Wiese (Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences from 1933).

 

The scope of work was increasing, which called for organizational changes. Samoilovich prepared a memorandum on reorganization of the Institute for Studies of the North to the All-Union Arctic Institute and submitted it to the USSR government. In November 1930, it approved a corresponding resolution, which gave birth to a powerful scientific center with a wide range of objectives including initiation of its own studies (among them, in the field of natural sciences, history, ethnography, economy and applied sciences such as means of communication, dog breeding, deer farming, business), coordination of studies initiated by other institutions and holding of special conferences.

 

In the late 1920s-early 1930s many advanced countries concentrated efforts on two projects related to studies of the "top" of our planet, namely, the Second International Polar Year and the Aeroarctic Society. The latter was estab-

 
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lished early in the 1920s for the purpose of creation of stations in difficult of access places in the Far North and their air supply. From 1930 the society was headed by the German Hugo Ekkener, who initiated and headed the first (and single) international air expedition. His country provided the Graf Zeppelin airship, and the scientific program was headed by Samoilovich.

 

After leaving the German city of Friedrichshafen, the aeronauts covered 13,000 km in 106 hours. They reached the Franz Josef Land, the western bank of Severnaya Zemlya, crossed the Vilkitsky Strait and Taimyr Peninsula. On their return trip they flew across Novaya Zemlya, inspected a part of its western bank and returned to Germany via Arkhangelsk. During the whole flight the aeronauts used aerial photography (with consequent deciphering in office conditions), thus proving its expediency in Arctic conditions, which Samoilovich greatly encouraged.

 

The scientists (including the meteorologist and inventor of radio-sounding apparatus* Pavel Molchanov, who carried out its launching several times from the airship) conducted ground surveying to update geology and morphology of the land surface of the islands and northern extrem-

 

* Radio-sounding apparatus is a device for the measurement of different atmospheric parameters and their transfer to fixed receivers.--Ed.

 

ities of the continent, the hydrological network and glaciation of islands and collected a vast material on the climate of the ground layers of the Arctic atmosphere and many other data. The uniqueness and importance of the material obtained by means of the radio-sounding apparatus exceeded all expectations. Of course, such success was due, first of all, to Samoilovich.

 

The Second International Polar Year was held in 1932-1933. The institute headed by Samoilovich was responsible for participation in that megaevent of the USSR and results of works on the Arctic stations. The navigation on the Sadko and Rusanov icebreakers, participation in studies of dozens of scientists of different specialties, collection of a field material under the joint program provided a vast range of knowledge on the Arctic. Many a year was needed to process, comprehend and publish such material.

 

In 1934, Samoilovich undertook one more expedition to the Kara Sea aboard the Sedov icebreaker and a year later he received a doctor's degree in geography. But the second half of the 1930s became a peak of Stalin's repressions, which also involved his institute. A campaign was launched for defamation of the scientist and his supporters at conferences and in the press. In 1938 he was arrested and accused of a standard set of charges, namely, the terrorist and counter-revolutionary activities. Within a year he was sentenced to death and shot on the Donskoye cemetery in Moscow. Only two decades later the fair name of the first "director of Russian Arctic regions" was reinstated and even immortalized on the geographical map of the Earth (an island and bay in the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago; a bay and strait between islands of the Franz Josef Land and an ice cupola in its northern part; a bay in the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago; an island in the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago; a mountain, cape and peninsula in the Antarctic Continent).

 

The scientific expeditions organized by Samoilovich, who also headed the most challenging and responsible ones (in all, 21 expeditions to Arctic Regions), provided important geographical discoveries and valuable information on the Arctic Ocean to the mankind. Besides, it is just thanks to his unique knowledge of the North, his exceptional organizational talent and scientific intuition, that our national economy received apatites of the Kola Peninsula, oil of the Republic of Komi, coal of Vorkuta, lead and zinc of the Vaigach Island, fluorite of the Pai-Khoi ridge in Northern Urals, and also copper, molybdenum, gypsum, rock crystal, asbestos and many other riches of the Polar Region.

 

Illustrations supplied by the author


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