A few weeks ago the 14 members of the XII Ukrainian Antarctic expedition handed over their watch to their colleagues and with light hearts left the Academician Vernadsky Station, where they had been since March 5, 2007. They are now reporting to the scientists of the Ukrainian Antarctic Center. Station chief Viktor Tarasov said that his group accomplished their mission by 100 percent. They carried out a series of meteorological, geophysical, and biological research; installed new communication systems, including the Internet, with the mainland; equipped the microbiological pavilion with modern technology that enables the scientists to study living organisms more accurately; and brought Ukrainian laboratories samples of Antarctic soil, water and microorganisms from areas of the continent whose physical conditions resemble those on Mars and Jupiter.
“All those samples are going to be examined by scientists, who will determine the water’s saline level and degree of pollution, as well as the presence of bacteria in the microbiological environment,” Tarasov explained. “To the average person this is probably meaningless, but for us, scientists, the results of those examinations will be extremely important. On the basis of this information, space research, which is being conducted by our foreign colleagues, can be carried out. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have enough money for this yet.”
Because of insufficient financing, Ukrainian explorers have never conducted any independent oceanographic research studies, which are extremely popular in the Antarctic today, where offshore oil deposits are being sought. For now, Antarctica remains a no-man’s land, so producing “black gold” from its depths is out of the question. Scientists claim, however, that in certain areas of the continent oil deposits are no deeper than a few meters from the surface. But everything will change as soon as Antarctica gets an owner. At the moment, the ocean around the entire continent is being studied by the 53rd Russian expedition. Yuri Artamonov, a Ukrainian scientist, was invited by his Russian colleagues to take part in it. Ukraine will thus obtain unique data about Antarctic oil deposits, if any are discovered.
Beside other important tasks, Ukraine’s polar explorers measured the level of the magnetic field over the Antarctic. According to geophysicist Mykola Starinets, this information is vital for pilots who navigate by the magnetic fields over the North and South Poles. Because the earth’s magnetic field changes, its fluctuations have to be measured daily in order to provide pilots with reliable information.
This year the station received the biggest amount of snow in the last 10 years. Powerful winds were also recorded, proof that the consequences of global warming are having an impact even on the Antarctic, which has always been considered the world’s “weather kitchen.”
Most of the expedition members are convinced that it is crucial for Ukraine to embark on new areas of research in the Antarctic, in particular by establishing new stations, moving inland, and studying the unique microbiology in the area of the so-called “dry valleys,” which are free of snow and ice during the Antarctic summer and have plenty of interesting vegetation. For now, the scientists have to limit the scope of their work to the sole Ukrainian Antarctic station, Academician Vernadsky.