The magic soil of Samoylov

There must be a reason why this well-established, somewhat oversized scientific station on the remote island of Samoylov was built. During the past three weeks, we discovered the hidden secrets of the place responsible for the excitement and the interest of international researchers.

For our own experiences, we measure the temperature of the soil surface covered by vegetation. Océane, Yoann and I have spent two days to roll out a thin fiber-optic cable of 500 m and we touched every inch of ground to be sure that the cable sticks to the bottom. I experienced the moss to be an extremely soft and comfortable isolating matt to sit on. However, just below the moss cover, temperatures decrease rapidly, and water stagnates. At one point we buried the cable below the moss and my hands got severely cold so that I wasn’t able to move them in order to take notes.

It is difficult to imagine that the layers of soil and sand below Samoylov are frozen to a depth of 600 m. The extent of this so-called permafrost is unique. And even if scientists have a reasonable explanation for its existence, I still have a hard time to imagine it.

The warmth of the short summer thaws the uppermost 30 cm of the soil. During the extremely harsh winters, the water between the organic matter gets frozen again, and here the magic happens: The icy soil cracks! Randomly at first. With time a surprisingly organized cracking pattern of polygon develops. No worries, if you don’t follow my explanation just look at the view from above (credits to Sebastian Zubrzycki) :

 

 

 

And from close:

 

 

The polygonal tundra gets even more funky when looking through the lens of a thermal camera:

 

 

We learn so many details about this landscape: together with Andrei, a geologist from Novosibirsk we travelled in time through the sediments from the Pleistocene to the Holocene (which is now). Our friend Slava from St. Petersburg is madly in love with humic acids found in the soil. There seems to be no limit for the discovery of new plants and microorganisms in the polygons. A playground for scientists, tundra lovers and adventurers. Personally, I find it extremely peaceful and enjoyable to be outside every day and I am completely mesmerized by the foreign form of the landscape of Samoylov, have a look:

 

 

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