Posted: 16.08.2023 14:26:00

Cold test

From fermented milk cultures to a weather station — what developments of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus are being tested in Antarctica

Our country has been exploring the expanses of the ice continent for almost two decades. Learn about the importance of polar research for science, economics and geopolitics from our conversation with the Deputy Head of the Republican Centre for Polar Research of the National Academy of Sciences, Head of the Belarusian Antarctic Expeditions Aleksei Gaidashov.

Participation effect

— The 15th Belarusian Antarctic Expedition became the longest — more than seven months. What do you remember about the ‘work shift’?   
— Indeed, due to the ongoing logistical problems that were provoked by the pandemic, it had to be delayed. Almost two winter months were taken unscheduled (in Antarctica, the lowest temperature is from March to October). The expedition has a lot of differences from the previous ones. The first is the expanded composition. There were 12 people, of which half were scientists, the rest were technical specialists. For comparison: at the initial stage there were two participants. Secondly, 8 scientific programmes in various areas have been implemented. Thirdly, 6 instrument complexes developed by scientists of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and other organisations have passed trial operation. The fourth moment and, so to speak, the peak of the current season is the first in our practice inland trip over a distance of almost 200 kilometres. By the way, an algorithm for further expanding the geography of polar research is already being worked out. We expect that in the coming years we will be able to increase the area of scientific ‘coverage’ to 1,000 kilometres. This is necessary, among other things, to strengthen the effect of Belarus’ presence on the ice continent. 
The latter is an important point that I talk about all the time and would like to remind you once again. The very presence of the Belarusian scientific mission in Antarctica is a unique example of how a small state could stand on an equal footing with the largest countries. Not all members of the Antarctic Treaty have their own stations here (we joined it in 2006). And ours in 2020 was recognised by the international inspection as one of the best. Among the distinguishing features of Vechernyaya Base are a high degree of environmental safety, manufacturability, and the use of alternative energy sources. The scientific component also received excellent reviews: the instrument base, those types of scientific programmes and observations that are being implemented by the Belarusian Antarctic Expedition.
Today Antarctica is a continent for peace and science, as defined by an international agreement in 1959. But it is possible that over time a decision will be made on the development of the subsoil and the use of its other opportunities in economic terms. The natural resources of the ice continent are enormous. These are colossal reserves of fresh water, oil, diamonds, gold, uranium, coal, and rare earth elements. Now their extraction is prohibited, but this is an economic and strategic prospect, which is taken seriously by the leading economies of the world. In addition, there are also the richest marine biological resources. Therefore, it is extremely important to designate our permanent presence in Antarctica.

Gold may be easily told

— What developments of Belarusian scientists were tested in the Antarctic this season? 
— The expedition immediately received 6 unique instrument complexes. Among them is a lidar for atmospheric sounding, created by specialists from the B.I. Stepanov Institute of Physics of the NAS of Belarus. It allows one to analyse the gas and aerosol composition of the atmosphere at an altitude of up to 70 kilometres. Next is a thermometric complex, which records the temperature of the soil and snow cover at various depths in a remote autonomous format. At the same time, the ‘thermistor chain’ is autonomous, equipped with batteries designed for a two-year period. This is a development of the Institute of Nature Management of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. For the first time, a seismological monitoring station (a unique development of the Centre for Geophysical Monitoring of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus) was deployed at the Belarusian Antarctic Station. Antarctica is a fairly seismically active region, so there is a small network of stations here. Ours allows you to register earthquakes not only in the local area. For example, we were able to ‘hear’ the cataclysms that occurred in February this year in Turkey and Syria. At the same time, the sensitivity of the sensors is so high that it even registers the process of iceberg formation.
Next — a fresh water filtration station — the development of the Gomel Institute of Mechanics of Metal-Polymer Systems named after V.A. Bely of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. I would also like to note the MeteoAntarctica meteorological station created by the specialists of the Minsk Research Institute of Radiomaterials of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Correlation (data comparability) with the Finnish weather station Vaisala is almost perfect. At the same time, MeteoAntarctica is distinguished by compactness and mobility — the complex was conceived as a mobile one, for use on long-distance routes and in agriculture. There are, of course, comments (after all, field testing was part of our task), but we have already discussed them with the developers. 

We grow with housing

— The construction of the Belarusian Antarctic Station started in 2015. What does it represent at the moment and are there any plans for expansion?  
— In 2020-2021, the construction of the first stage of the station was completed, now the second stage is being formed. 15 facilities were put into operation: laboratory, residential, storage facilities, garage boxes, diesel power plant, bath and laundry, surgical and outpatient modules. Next season, we will begin to mount the wardroom. It will be a large block, including food processing and cooking workshops, a canteen, a hall with modern projection gadgets, and a library. Naturally, this is not the final stage of construction. We will grow by square metres and further. After all, this is a kind of iconic object — the Belarusian House of Science in Antarctica, no less. 

Domestic dairy products and bread — like at home

Polar explorers tested (and with great enthusiasm) food products developed by scientists from the Research and Production Centre of the National Academy of Sciences for Food and the Institute of the Meat and Dairy Industry of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.
“Kefir, curdled milk, yogurt and other fermented milk products are vital for good nutrition. Especially in polar conditions. But the problem is that they have a limited shelf life. In previous years, we took a small supply with us and ‘sour milk’ was a delicacy. Now the problem is solved — dry starter cultures are easy to prepare, they showed themselves perfectly. We eat regularly, with great appetite and we advise everyone,” Aleksei Gaidashov says.

Despite the fact that there is a bread maker at the Belarusian Antarctic Station, in field conditions such products are not very convenient — they quickly become stale. 
“The bread that we bring with us is long-term storage, vacuum-packed, it was developed at the Scientific and Practical Centre of the National Academy of Science for Food, it was baked exclusively for us at the Pinsk bakery. Natural preservatives are used, there are species with various useful food additives. It is very tasty and healthy product — this is tested in practice,” Aleksei Gaidashov explains.

By Olga Bebenina