Floating University is a Russian invention - Arctic-fund

Floating University is a Russian invention

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The Northern (Arctic) Federal University with the support of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) and Russian Geographical Society has been conducting a unique project «Arctic Floating University» (AFU) for two years already. The project is being implemented on board of the research vessel «Professor Molchanov». We decided to speak about the work of this extraordinary scientific establishment with the head of the first expedition in 2013, Vice Rector of NArFU for scientific work Constantine Zajkov.

— The Floating University is often called a unique project. Why is that?

— This is the first floating university which was initiated by the institutions from the Russian North. The main initiator was the Northern (Arctic) Federal University. AFU is unique because it combines lectures, labs and practice. For example, the first voyage in 2013 was attended by our students, geographers, who knew nothing about oceanography. By the end of the trip they mastered the basics and worked with the equipment.

The uniqueness of the expedition is also associated with the area of operations. AFU cruised to Spitsbergen, this is the first voyage of a Russian research vessel to this polar archipelago. The Norwegians were amazed. They first learned what a floating university is. Experts of the Norwegian Polar Institute offered us cooperation. The representatives of German and Poland also spoke positively about the floating university.

— So they are potential partners?

— Yes, of course. For example, the representatives of Poland said that they are ready to send their students on AFU next year. There are no such practices in Europe. This is a Russian invention.

During our voyage we looked for information on marine expeditions to Svalbard. It turned out that the previous Russian (or rather Soviet) expedition was there in the 1940s.

The expedition of AFU is the first expedition to Svalbard which included students. And «Professor Molchanov» was the first Russian research vessel that reached the northernmost settlement in Svalbard.

— What research does the AFU conduct?

— Plenty of research. We took samples of soil for analysis of radioactive state of the environment, conducted seismic and glaciological research, gathered samples of biological resources of the coastal strip of Svalbard. We obtained some interesting information on the concentration of heavy metals in different soil layers of the archipelago.

The second expedition of the Floating University includes new scientific units — geography and ecology. AFU works in the eastern part of the Barents Sea. The vessel reached Novaya Zemlya and Wiese Island. Unfortunately, «Professor Molchanov» could not sail into the Kara Sea because of the ice barrier. The vessel reached Franz Josef Land, where some samples of ice were taken and our men analyzed salinity and temperature of water.

— What public agencies except NArFU are involved in this work?

— The Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet), the Institute of Arctic and Antarctic, members of the Polar Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography, the Institute of Zoology RAS, State Institute of Oceanography RAS. The research is also connected to the field of meteorology, biological resources, concentration of biomass, the latter two areas are relevant for the assessment of the industrial potential of the Arctic seas. During the expedition some research of the ozone layer was conducted. The basic idea pursued by meteorologists is to make a mobile map of movements of a so-called ozone hole.

It is important that research is not uncoordinated. The task is to conduct comprehensive research which will provide a global picture of different factors that influence the Arctic Ocean, such as global warming and human activity. Our research will also help to find out the industrial potential of the seas. One of the main goals of complex research is to understand what factors influence the state of the ocean. This is very important for us, the Russians, because most of the Russian maritime space is in the Arctic. The importance of this research is also confirmed by the growth of demand for marine living resources and marine mining operations.

— Can an ordinary student become a participant of the expedition?

— We need students of corresponding profiles to carry out different tasks. There are few places on the ship. It is important for the students to be physically and mentally healthy, to speak English, because the program is becoming international. In modern world it is impossible to speak of qualitative research without cooperation with foreign partners.

Our penultimate voyage was attended by the students from the Institute of Oil and Gas, future geographers, chemists, psychologists, medical technicians and even philologists. We had an English teacher, a doctor (he studied the condition of people in pitching), a famous northern artist Sergey Zvyagin who gathered material for his new works during the voyage. Some specialists read courses of lectures on the vessel.

— Are these lectures for the students?

— We invite everyone to attend these lectures, including members of the crew. We have exams and workshops, and after the expedition the students receive a diploma. So AFU is a university in miniature.