The Heat Is Online

Russian Scientists Stranded By Arctic Collapse

Drama at Russian research station, March 4, 2004

Russia is preparing to launch an operation to rescue a group of scientists, after the sinking of their North Pole research base.

The 12 researchers were unhurt, but equipment and supplies disappeared into freezing waters as an ice floe beneath the base collapsed late on Wednesday.

Efforts to drop emergency clothes and food have so far been hampered by strong winds. North Pole-32 marked Russia's return to polar research after a 12-year absence.

Russia was forced to suspend Arctic missions in 1991 when an ice floe carrying its 31st polar expedition was caught in a warm stream and broke up.

The latest incident, which happened at 5:15 p.m. Moscow time on Wednesday, destroyed 90% of the base's structures, leaving the scientists huddled in surviving buildings.

Melting runway

The new station was set up 10 months ago to study climate change and assess mineral reserves.

Earlier on Wednesday, 20 March was announced as its evacuation date.

The station's aircraft runway was ruined by melting ice, forcing supplies to be parachuted.

The floating station has covered a distance of 2,750 km since it was set up last April. It has sent weather reports every six hours.

It is now about 700 km from the Norwegian arctic territory of Spitzbergen.

President Vladimir Putin had hailed the resumption of polar expeditions as a development "of great significance".

Story from BBC NEWS