Bye-bye Barneo: Russia replaces North Pole ice camp with separate science, military sites

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They’ve hosted barbers, figure skaters, marathon runners and thousands of others seeking unique thrills at the top of the world, but Russia is making it more clear than ever this year their North Pole ambitions go way beyond fun and games.

The country is abandoning the Bareno ice camp it has operated on the sea ice at about 89 degrees latitude north for a few weeks every April during the past 14 years in favor of two longer-range bases that will emphasize military and science projects instead of tourist expeditions, according to the Expeditionary Center of the Russian Geographical Society.

Tourist expeditions, which generally involve a “last-degree” ski trip of about 60 kilometers to the North Pole, will continue this year – and the leader of one major company said Monday he’s received no notice of any changes in Russia’s hosting plans – but “this year the base will operate primarily for scientists,” a statement by the geographical society notes.

There are no plans to cancel the Barneo project permanently, according to the agency.

“Next year it will continue its existence with all interested operators, but this season our team has another mission,” the statement notes.

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Russian workers inspect fuel drums that will be dropped by parachute onto an ice support camp that will be used primarily by scientists. Photo courtesy of the Expeditionary Center of the Russian Geographical Society.

Eric Philps, owner of Icetrek and president of the International Polar Guides Association, said he’s approaching this season the same as the previous 12 years he’s led expeditions – even referring to the ice camp as “Barneo” – since he’d “likely be among the first to know” if Russia was drastically altering its support for tourist expeditions.

“The season, from my perspective of the tourists and skiers, is that nothing has changed,” he said.

Victor Boyarsky of Vicaar International Projects and Expeditions, a logistics company based in Moscow, told Explorersweb, “if everything goes as planned, we expect to have the first commercial flight with skiers from Longyearbyen, Svalbard, on April 3. This year Barneo camp will be closed on April 25.”

North Pole expeditions departing from Longyearbyen to Barneo typically occur during the first three weeks of April, although weather and sea ice conditions often alter the timing by several days on both ends of the calendar.

A floating science station, named “North Pole-2015” is scheduled to remain in operation for up to six months beginning in April. A series of military exercises, known as “Victory 2015,”  will be conducted at another site in observation of the 70th anniversary of the victory in WWII and the 85th anniversary of Russia’s Airborne Forces.

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Russian paratroopers prepare to descend onto the sea ice at about 89 degrees and 47 minutes north latitude Monday to construct a support camp for North Pole expeditions. Photo courtesy of the Expeditionary Center of the Russian Geographical Society.

A post Monday on the society’s Facebook page states that, after several days of searching for a suitable place to construct an ice runway for the science base, equipment and paratroopers were dropped onto a site at about 89 degrees and 47 minutes north latitude and 48 degrees and 35 minutes east longtitude.

Russia has maintained an aggressive posture about “owning” the North Pole, including numerous high-profile acts such as planting a flag on the seabed there in 2007 (a nuclear submarine planted another flag last summer) and annual consecration services by religious leaders to symbolize the country’s efforts toward “the return of the country’s former position in the region.” Canada and Denmark have recently joined the territorial dispute by filing continental shelf claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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