The Northern Sea Route and Its Prospects: Part 3.

While there was a pause after the second part [part 1 can be found here – ed], the transatlantic analysts stating advantages of Russia in the Arctic became more active again. A journalist of “The National Interest” with undisguised grief writes:

“<…> the Arctic is one of the world’s coldest locations—and Russia may be one of the countries best positioned to get ready to take it <…> As the Earth warms, icebreakers are becoming even more relevant. Whichever country has an interest in the Arctic area will still need to break through some ice, though there will be less ice in the future. Whoever gets there first wins—and Moscow just might beat everyone to it.”

Trump is still bewildered, sobbing that we need to urgently build the best American icebreakers in the world, and in the meantime we need to rent from someone else. It’s not clear from who, either, but at least take it from the Russians.

Well, Moscow, as we know, does not believe tears and does its job quietly, therefore we will calmly continue to get acquainted with this harsh region, which does not tolerate fuss.

About communications in the Arctic

A classic of the genre is Iridium. It is an American system that has existed for many years: a grouping of satellites, ground stations, and so on. We are already used to Iridium, it works reliably, somewhere at 4-5 on the Beaufort scale, but it was not without competition.

Inmasart is also American. This system is slightly worse, but is tolerable, somewhere on 3-4. But then appeared VSAT – Gazprom systems and satellites of the “Yamal” series, which work throughout the entire Northern Sea Route at 5 everywhere, the signal passes in general without delays. It was checked once again during the piloting of two Novatek gas carriers that were traveling to China via the Northern Sea Route.

Roskosmos is also involved, with plans to launch a new constellation of Kondor and Ekspress-RV satellites by 2024. But little is still known about this.

In general, there are alternatives, but the Gazprom system is preferable now, and the rest are available as alternatives, if anything. It is difficult to stay in the Arctic without communication today, which does not cancel the constant new developments, changes of outdated satellites, updates of ground stations, etc. The navigation time is expanding every year and soon the Arctic will be crowded, so there is no time to stand still.

There was, by the way, a project to stretch optical fibre along the bottom of the Arctic Ocean from Europe to Asia. Crazy speeds were assumed. From our side, Megafon was supposed to be the owner. They started pedalling it in 2018, continued in 2019, but by the end of the year nothing was heard about it. Now the project is in the suspended stage, because there are many difficulties with it. It is unclear at what depth to lay, as depths are different everywhere and there are places (for example, the Gulf of Ob) where ice hummocks nobly plow the bottom and if there is a cable, it’s tough luck.

About Northern Sea Route ports

There is a simple question: is serious port infrastructure necessary if recently gas carriers passed through the Northern Sea Route without entering ports at all?

Ports, of course, are necessary, first of all for the northern regions. Dikson is seriously developing, Tiksi a little less, then Pevek. Anything can happen along the way. When the ice melts, there are storms that you need to wait out. There are breakdowns – the equipment, after all, works in extreme conditions. Sometimes you need to replenish your water and fuel supplies.

Nevertheless, usually caravans do not come into ports, as they have enough supplies. But over time the situation will require development — because of warming navigation will grow from year to year, including local navigation. And the requirements of the Ministry of Defence is the protection of northern borders and, of course, the open secret: the shortest route to Russia for our “dear partners” goes through the North Pole.

Once again about structure of the ice

The ice in the Arctic is frozen salty water. But the process is the same with both salt and fresh water. Needle-like small crystals appear on the surface of the water under the influence of low temperatures. They are called ice needles. They occur in the water column in the surface layer. These needles form a kind of matte film on the surface of the water, and then these needles start to gradually turn into long crystals. Do not forget that all of this is flavoured with light snow from above, turning into a mass of this, as it were, leaden colour. When their number increases, they turn into “grease ice”. There is such a term. And when this is mixed with non-melting snow, it is called “slush”.

Then such porous lumps are formed as if already ice, and these lumps grow into the so-called nilas ice – young ice. This is already ice in the usual sense. And then it gradually thickens. There is also pancake ice, which is also one of the initial forms. It indeed looks like pancakes.

The lamination of ice happens due to the fact that there is different densities, so the lower layer froze earlier, the one that is higher, the recent, lays on top respectively. Then it snowed on it, the freezing process went further. At the same time, due to the different structure, the ice layers have different thermal conductivity.

The main thing that should be distinguished is mobile (drifting) ice and stationary (fast ice). But fast ice is usually ice formed near the shore and from the shore, so it is stationary, but the fast ice sometimes breaks off from the shore and then it is called “separated fast ice”. Also, the most basic types of ice are annual, which can be thin (30-70 cm), medium (70-120 cm) and thick (120-200 cm). Annual because it was formed during one season. If it does not change during the summer, it goes into the stage of two-year ice. Everything up to 30 cm is young and initial forms of ice.

Thus, the ice overboard is different, but it is not recommended to throw it into a glass with a drink. It is blue only in the sea and visually, and, for example, in the Gulf of Ob, it is brownish due to a large amount of sand suspension. How can you put it in a good drink?!

To be continued…


Aleksandr Dubrovsky

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