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Polar base evacuated as ice melts early
14 July 2008 05:27 am
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Russian scientists are evacuating a research station built on an ice floe drifting in the western Arctic Ocean because global warming is melting the ice early, a spokesman said.

The North Pole-35 station, where 21 researchers and two dogs live in huts, will be pulled out this week instead of late August, said Sergei Balyasnikov of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

"The evacuation is ahead of schedule because of global warming," Balyasnikov said.

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika will escort a research vessel to the station, which is drifting between the Franz Josef Land archipelago and the island of Novaya Zemlya in the western Arctic.

The researchers are packing up their winterized huts and equipment to prepare for the arrival of the icebreaker and the research vessel Mikhail Somov, Balyasnikov said.

The research crew landed in early September on the 2- by 4-kilometer (1.2- by 2.5-mile) ice floe in near the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. During its westward drift of more than 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles), the floe has shrunken to just 300 meters by 600 meters (1,000 feet by 2,000 feet).

Over the last 60 years, Russia has organized dozens of research stations that collect data on weather and Arctic flora and fauna. Soviet polar researchers were hailed as heroes, and the results of their journeys were once hailed as unique achievements of Communist science.

Russia recently resumed the tradition of using polar research to make political points.

Russia last year sent an expedition to plant a Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole and said research indicates a massive underwater mountain range in the area, which is believed to contain huge oil and gas reserves, is part of Russia's continental shelf.

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