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Northeast Passage: The Laptev Sea

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This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change. One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.

Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.

Google Map of the Laptev SeaGoogle Map of the Laptev Sea

By Neil Hamilton

Now that we are ‘on the road’ again I can give you some impressions of the third legendary sea we are travelling through, the Laptev Sea. It is named after Dimitry Laptev, one of the leaders of the famous Russian Great Arctic Expedition. Lying between the Taimyr peninsula and the New Siberian islands, the Laptev is, like the Barents and the Kara, part of the huge Russian arctic continental shelf.  It is also, like the Kara, shallow (we haven’t been through water deeper than 25 metres yet!), and very, very empty.

This is one of the remotest places you can be.  To the south lies the Sakha Republic / Yahkutia, the biggest and least inhabited part of Russia; to the west the Taimyr peninsula (which is complete wilderness); to the north, nothing but ice. We are aware of two seismic survey vessels but to our knowledge there are no other ships in the entire sea.

The Laptev is also a bit different for us, too.  For the first time since leaving Murmansk we have an ocean swell, up to 2 metres high.  It gives the ‘Explorer’ a pleasant new motion, but makes keeping things on the table pretty interesting.  It also brings new weather for us: having basked in 15 degrees on the Taimyr, we now have zero degrees: the swell comes straight from the North!  At least the sun is shining and visibility is good, which is critical for us as there are big logs in the water.

Where do these come from?  My legendary river, the Lena.  We are travelling eastwards towards the delta of the river that brought me here in the first place, from which a constant and enormous supply of timber is delivered into the arctic ocean.  It travels with the trans-polar drift westwards, ending up on the coast of Svalbard and northern Norway. An incredible thought.

My part in this amazing expedition shortly comes to a close, as I leave ‘Explorer’ and her crew in Tiksi, on the eastern margins of the Lena Delta.  Geoff York, WWF’s polar bear coordinator, takes over shortly afterwards and will continue this blog.

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