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Icebergs this size are quaite frequently seen in the vicinity of the Vernadsky Atlantic Station. Strong winds carry them west from Indian Ocean section of Antarctica.
in Antarctica
Ukraine became “an Antarctic state” on February 6, 1996, at 6.45 p.m. local time, when the personnel of the Ukrainian Antarctic station, situated in the island of Galindes, hoisted the Ukrainian national flag.

Lying almost concentrically around the South Pole, Antarctica — the name of which means “opposite to the Arctic” — is the southernmost continent. It is almost wholly overlain by a continental ice sheet containing approximately 30 million cubic kilometres of ice and representing about 90 percent of the world's ice. The average thickness is about 6,500 feet (2,000 metres). Around the Antarctic coast, shelves, glaciers, and ice sheets continually “calve,” or discharge, icebergs into the seas.

Because of this vast ice, the continent supports only a primitive indigenous population of cold-adapted land plants and animals. The surrounding sea is as rich in life as the land is barren. With the decline of whaling and sealing, the only economic base in the past, Antarctica now principally exports the results of scientific investigations that lead to a better understanding of the total world environment. The present scale of scientific investigation of Antarctica began with the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58. Although early explorations were nationalistic, leading to territorial claims, modern ones have come under the international aegis of the Antarctic Treaty. This treaty, which was an unprecedented landmark in diplomacy when it was signed in 1959 by 12 nations, preserves the continent for nonmilitary scientific pursuits. Antarctica is important as a region of international cooperation in scientific research.

In July 1819 a Russian naval expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen complemented and enhanced Cook's findings. Bellingshausen charted South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands, then edged eastward along the pack ice, twice crossing the Antarctic Circle, until he was stopped by ice cliffs. In the following year he returned south to the ice's edge, continuing eastward and pressing through pack ice very close to the continental coast.

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Meeting before departing. The members of the second expedition at the Vernadsky Antarctic Station saying goodbye to the expeditionists of the first expedition shortly before the departure of Ernest Krenkel research ship. The picture was taken on March 17, 1997.

Later he discovered Peter I Island and Alexander Island. Like Cook, Bellingshausen sailed to within sight of Antarctica without the satisfaction of positive discovery. The Englishman Edward Bransfield, and the American Nathaniel Palmer claimed first sightings of the continent in 1820.

In the twentieth century, between the two World Wars, aircraft began to be used in Antarctic exploration. The first half of the 20th century was also the colonial period in the history of Antarctica. Between 1908 and 1942, seven nations decreed sovereignty over pie-shaped sectors of the continent; many other nations carried out Antarctic exploration without lodging formal territorial claims. During the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58, 12 nations established more than 50 overwintering stations on the continent for cooperative scientific study. In 1961 the Antarctic Treaty which reserved Antarctica for free and nonpolitical scientific investigation, entered into full force. Since then, there has been growth in the number and nature of cooperative international scientific projects in Antarctica.

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Religious service on board Ernest Krenkel research ship on January 18, 1997, the day when the first Ukrainian Antarctic expedition began its mission at the  Vernadsky Antarctic Station.
History of Ukrainian presence in Antarctica

Ukraine's indirect participation began at the time when Ukraine, as a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, supplied transport and other planes to deliver cargoes and researchers to the Soviet stations in Antarctica (from AN-2 to AN -70, which is one of the best of its kind in the world). Ukraine also built ships for the same purpose (“Mykhailo Somov”, “Vitus Bering”, “Ivan Papanin” and others).

After Ukraine's independence, the Ukrainian parliament ratified the Antarctic Treaty and a year later a centre for Antarctic research at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine was established. In September of 1994 Ukraine was admitted, to a great extent thanks to an active support provided by Great Britain, to the Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research in the capacity of an associated member. The same year Great Britain decided to close down its Antarctic station Faraday and Britain's Ministry for Foreign Affairs offered Ukraine to take it over. Ukraine accepted the offer and the British Antarctic Survey trained the Ukrainian personnel to operate the sophisticated scientific equipment installed at the station. On February, 1996 the Union Jack was lowered and the Ukrainian national flag hoisted. The station was renamed Akademik (“Academician”) Vernadsky. It happened at 6.45 p.m. local time and Ukraine became a direct participant of the Antarctic research.

Geography and Research

The island of Galindes, in which the Ukrainian Vernadsky station is situated, is one of the three dozens islands of the Argentinean Archipelago, five miles away from the Land of Graham, in the Pacific Ocean shelf on the western side of the Antarctic continent. Even the biggest islands here look like huge domes of ice with occasional outcroppings of rock. In the distance one can see the majestic mountains of the main land rising like walls and towers of medieval castles. The islands are fragments of what in geological theory is known as Gondwanaland. During the Mesozoic Era (about 240 million to 65 million years ago) Antarctica was a central part of Gondwanaland, an ancient landmass that consisted of the present continents of South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia as well as the Indian subcontinent. Evidence from oceanic ridges surrounding Antarctica indicates that Gondwanaland began to break up about 150 million years ago. Antarctica gradually drifted towards the South Pole, arriving near its present polar position about 100 million years ago. Climatic cooling caused the gradual formation of the Antarctic ice sheet.

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Ukrainian women-expeditionists disembarking. They will overwinter at the Vernadsky station.
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A view of the Akademik Vernadsky Ukrainian Antarctic Station.
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A Weddel seal. In the background – Ernest Krenkel research ship. Weddel seals live primarily at the southernmost reaches of the Atlantic Ocean; these sizeable seals can weigh as much as 600 kg., and grow as long as 3.3 meters.
The British Antarctic station Faraday was set up in 1934. It was the first permanent overwintering station to be established in Antarctica. In 1947 the all-the-year round meteorological survey was begun. Now this work is continued by Ukrainian meteorologists. The studies of the ozone layer were begun in 1957 and thanks to the research done at the Faraday and Hally station, the British Antarctic survey scientists arrived at the conclusion that the ozone layer was growing thinner. The depletion of the ozone layer was registered in the sixties and in the seventies, became so evident that the media all over the world expressed a growing anxiety. The Ukrainian Antarctic meteorologists have been carrying on the ozone layer monitoring since 1996 and during the first year of monitoring the lowest level of ozone was registered. According to theory, the ozone depletion may be caused by some substances discharged into the atmosphere during a number of technological processes, but the Ukrainian Antarctic scientists are looking for other possible causes, examining the ancient ice formations in Antarctica. Some natural phenomena, volcanic eruptions among them, could be a major contributor to the depletion of the ozone layer.
The Vernadsky station scientists are also carrying out research in assessing the level of ultra-violet radiation under conditions of relatively high cloudiness without using an extensive network of expensive apparatus. The station physicists study the processes occurring in the ionosphere in order to determine what impact the solar “winds” have on the radio and other kinds of modern communication systems. The magnetosphere of the earth is another field of studies. The thing is that the magnetic pole is located quite a distance away from the geographical pole and it makes it possible to do valuable research.

The Vernadsky station Ukrainian scientific personnel is involved, among other things, in carrying on with the program of receiving and analyzing the data from the artificial satellites doing the topographic surveying of the earth surfaces.

All the data collected are sent to the leading world centres doing the same kind of research. It allows to arrive at the planetary conclusions. In this way the global International Geosphere/ Biosphere Programme (IGBP) is being realized. The Programme is aimed at collecting data that will enable foreseeing possible global environmental changes. The IGBP is a direct descendant of the Geae International Programme which in the late eighties accumulated enough data that allowed the US scientist Charles Sagan and the Soviet scientist Nikita Moiseyev to arrive at a theory of “a nuclear winter.” These scientists believed that the pollution of the environment, caused by technological factors, could lead to disastrous consequences.

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It is 18,000 kilometres from this point in Antarctica to the city of Kyiv.
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A colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica.

Conditions of life at the Vernadsky station (or for that matter at any other Antarctic station) are very severe but it did not stop four women searchers to join a dozen man there last year. The west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula and the neighbouring islands have the mildest climates, with average January temperatures, that is in the “heat” of summer sometimes rising above freezing. But the Ukrainian researchers at the Vernadsky station are all determined and highly motivated people who know that they are doing very important work. Plus, there is some peculiar magic in the extremely harsh reality of Antarctica. The entire region south of the Antarctic Circle experiences at least one day of continuous daylight during the southern hemisphere’s summer (around December 21) and one day of continuous darkness during the winter (around June 21). The interior of Antarctica has almost continuous daylight during the summer and darkness during the winter. In coastal areas farther north, there are fewer days of continuous daylight and darkness, and sunrises and sunsets occur more frequently.

Antarctica experiences many unique atmospheric optical phenomena. Most spectacular is the aurora australis (southern lights), caused by entry into the upper atmosphere of streams of charged particles (mainly protons and electrons) from the sun.

Deflected by the earth’s magnetic field, the particles collide with atoms and molecules of atmospheric gases 90 to 140 km (60 to 90 miles) above the earth’s surface. This produces light in characteristic rays, bands, and rings of various hues. Within the southern auroral zone — a wide circle about 4000 km (about 2000 miles) in diameter and centered around the geomagnetic pole (the south end of the axis of the geomagnetic field that surrounds the earth) — auroral displays are visible almost every winter night, including the 24-hour-long polar night.

By Andriy Shestakov and Al Pan
Photos by Valery Solovyov

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