The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov

Laptev Sea: History of Exploration

Reference work entry

Laptev Sea: History of Exploration – in the early seventeenth century, unknown Russian seamen sailed from the west, rounded Cape Chelyuskin, and arrived at the eastern shores of the Taymyr Peninsula. I. Rebrov was one of the pioneers in the history of exploration of the Laptev Sea. In 1633, he went down the Lena River and sailed by sea to the embouchure of the Yana River. Within the ensuing several years, Cossacks surveyed all the coastline of the Laptev Sea east of Khatanga. Participants of the Great Northern Expedition (V.V. Pronchishchev, Khariton and Dmitry Laptev, S.I. Chelyuskin) drew first maps of the Laptev Sea coasts. In 1760–1761, merchants I. Bakhov and N. Shalaurov researched the shores of the Laptev Sea east of the mouth of the Lena River. In 1808–1811, an expedition led by M. M. Gedenschtrom together with Yakov Sannikov was the first to chart the New Siberian Islands and the Lyakhovskiy Islands and the Siberian coast from the Lena River to Chaunskaya Bay. In 1820–1824, an expedition under P. F. Anjou compiled a detailed chart of the New Siberian Islands and the mainland shore between the Olenyok and the Indigirka rivers. In 1878, an expedition by A. Nordenskiöld on vessels “Vega” and “Lena” passed to the Laptev Sea. In 1900–1902, a Russian expedition under E. V. Toll conducted its studies in the Laptev Sea. The Russian hydrographic expedition on ships “Taymyr” and “Vaygach” in 1912–1914 made the first marine chart and sailing directions for the Laptev Sea, discovered the Emperor Nicholas II Land (Russian: Zemlya Imperatora Nikolaya II), later called Severnaya Zemlya. A precise coast survey, soundings, and hydrologic exploration of the Laptev Sea were made in Soviet times though. It is remarkable that the Laptev Sea was being researched and developed at the same time. Alongside with regular sailing routing, there were extensive observations at hydrometeorological stations as well as an integrated study of the Laptev Sea and adjoining areas.

In 1921, N. I. Evgenov accomplished his two-year hydrographic reconnaissance of the Lena River Delta and proposed a project for coastal traffic management between the rivers Lena and Kolyma and Yakutia resupply from Vladivostok by sea.

The Laptev Sea saw expeditions on the schooner “Polyarnaya Zvezda” (in 1927), “A. Sibiryakov” (1932), “Chelyuskin” (1933), and on the icebreaker “Fyodor Litke” (1934). A lot of missions were undertaken later by the Hydrographic Service of the Arctic Institute. Regular freight voyages started in 1933 when the steamers “Tovarishch Stalin” and “Volodarskiy” set from the west arrived in Tiksi Bay and the steamer “Pravda” in Nordvik. In 1937–1938, a third high-latitude expedition on the “Sadko” took place and carried out investigations mainly in the Laptev Sea, in the East Siberian Sea, at the New Siberian Shoal, and on the continental slope of the Polar Basin north of the New Siberian Islands.

The Laptev Sea is a part of the Northern Sea Route that determines its economic value.

After the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945), research covered the system of ice openings and front boundaries in the Laptev Sea as indicators of the state and climatic environmental variability of the Siberian Shelf seas. In the research area, it was discovered that the waters of the Atlantic Ocean coming from the northern regions of the Laptev Sea make the bottom layer heavier.

In 1948, the icebreaker “Fyodor Litke” mission performed a hydrological section in the Laptev Sea and studied the formation of the Taymyr ice Massif. Materials obtained by this expedition are still employed in ice and meteorological forecasts.

In 1960–1980, due to the transition of the fieldwork to drifting ice stations, the activity of research vessels in the Arctic region stopped. At the end of the 1980s, the situation changed after a new generation of research ships of the icebreaking and reinforced class was introduced.

Comprehensive exploration of the Laptev Sea started in mid-1990s within the scope of cooperation between Russia and Germany. In 1993, the joint Russian–German expedition “Arctic-93” was launched. As its part, the expedition “Transdrift 1” carried out investigations in the ice packs of the northern area of the Laptev Sea and in the east of Nansen Basin. In 1994, the seminar “Russia–Germany Cooperation in the Laptev Sea and Around it” in Saint Petersburg drew the conclusions of that enterprise. The following projects were accomplished: “Laptev Sea System” (1994–1997), “Taymyr” (1994–1997), “The Laptev Sea-2000” (1998–2001), and “Lena-2002” (2002). The activities were done by the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (Saint Petersburg), Institute for Permafrost Studies (Yakutsk), Murmansk Marine Biological Institute, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (Bremerhaven, Germany), and Institute for Polar Ecology (University of Kiel, Germany).

The German icebreaker “Polarstern” and the Russian expedition vessels “Ivan Kireev,” “Professor Multanovskiy,” “Kapitan Dranitsyn,” and “Boris Petrov” were the platforms for joint studies.

Over the period of 1993–1998, ten expeditions were held primarily in the Laptev Sea with approximately 150 stations being set up. The main goal of the expeditions was to examine the marine fauna diversity. It was established that the composition of species and distributive features of macrobenthos on the Laptev Sea shelf are determined mainly by the summer river water discharge and associated with salinity change that is typical of this aquatic area.

A biogeographic analysis of the Laptev Sea fauna showed that Boreal-Arctic species dominate the whole sea area, with North Atlantic species substantially prevailing.

Three missions on the “Polarstern” in 1993, 1995, and 1998 to the north of the Laptev Sea were of prime importance because hydrobiological stations were settled in these regions almost half century after the “Sadko” expedition (1937–1938) in the area of perennial ice cover. Sea fauna distribution in upper bathyal was proved to be zonal that can be ascribed to rich sedimentary organic matter and warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

In August–September, 2002, the Russian–American expedition “AVLAP-2002” onboard the icebreaker “Kapitan Dranitsyn” took place. The mission aimed to investigate the Laptev Seabed shelf and natural sea system condition, interaction of its major constituents, and its impact on the climatic change formation in the northern polar regions. For that purpose, submerged buoy station was set for 1 year to measure temperature, conductivity, pressure, and three components of current velocity near the bottom layer, about 60 m thick. For the sake of scientific integrity of investigations, standard oceanographic observations were made using temperature and conductivity gauges to probe the water, as well as extensive meteorological observations and visual monitoring of the ice cover state. Survey area encompassed the continental slope of the northern part of the Laptev Sea. US counterparts were represented by the University of Alaska staff (IARC).

In 2007–2009, the comprehensive expedition “BARKALAV-2007–2009” operated in the Barents, Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian seas as part of national science and technology dedicated subprogram “Marine Research in the Arctic, the Seas of Russia, Continental Shelf, and in the World Ocean. Models and Technologies for Sea Forecasts and Calculations” and the science program for Russia’s participation in the International Polar Year 2007–2008. Expedition studies intended to obtain new integrated data about the current state of sea areas, seasonal cycles of environmental attributes in order to understand climatic variability of ice, hydrological and hydrochemical regimes of the Arctic seas, and biological conditions and deposition of sediments on the seabed. New complex data were acquired about the existing areas of seas. AARI and scientists from Germany (GEOMAR Institute) took part in the mission.

In 2010, the expedition “LapEx-2010” went on the survey vessel “Nikolay Evgenov” and carried out 45 stations, picked up two submerged buoy stations (SBS), and set five buoy SBSs.

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