Tuesday, 3 May 2011

White Sea Biological Station

The White Sea Biological Station is a fantastic place that is part of Moscow State University and it's located beyond the polar circle on the coast of the White Sea (North of Russia). It's a scientific village in the middle of the forest that has no road connections. Nearest cities are far far away from it and all biology students during their study have to come here to have practice in marine biology and botany. I had never even imagined that northern landscapes are so amazing and breathtaking with lichens growing instead of grass, never-endless "sunsets" and "sunrises" where the sun never goes below the horizon, and more mosquitoes than air...

I'll try to describe the station from a point of view of a student coming to the place.

Coming by train Train station

From Moscow it takes about 36 hours to get by train to the nearest train station, where you need to take a ship. The station doesn't have road connections and the train stop looks absolutely random. And I bet few people know what kind of cars long-distance trains in Russia have... anyway, everything after that bloody long train ride is exciting.

By pier

Unique northern Russian "design" and "architecture" is obvious from the very first steps. This jetty by which I stand is actually more reliable than it looks despite the fact that it's made out of rusty ship. It will not swim away.

During the short northern summer it can be quite warm there. Sometimes even up to 30 degrees. But mostly it's a cold and rainy place with sudden weather changes. Unless it rains, the 2 hrs boat ride is pleasant and you can enjoy the serene northern landscapes

The station jettyA house at the station

The station itself is neat and it can hold up to a couple of hundred students, which is very impressive for a remote place like that. The food is brought by a ship and everybody is helping to unload it. Only recently electricity lines and the internet were established...  I think electricity took something unique from the atmosphere of the station. It didn't feel like being fully away from the civilization anymore.

ShipOne of the station houses

As the sea is frozen during the winter (which is about 7-8 months a year ), the ships have to be brought to the land for the winter. That explains railroads coming out of the freezing sea.

One the second pic (top) you see the kitchen. Meals are regular, scheduled, and a "gong" rings to attract hungry students. A gong is obviously made out of random metal trash.

Straight after coming you normally start the practice, which require sample collection and sometimes you go to random islands by sea.

Mooring a shipCollecting samples for classCollecting samples

For classes you have to collect algae, lichens, marine invertebrates, jellyfish and, other cool stuff. In the "laboratories" you spend most of your day identifying creatures, counting their limbs, gills, eyes, penises, and other parts of their bodies and making drawings that must represent all those features.

Our laboratory Eating mussles

The marine creatures are so... alien, just check this out: marine invertebrates of the White Sea.
Pictures below do not belong to me but to the same wonderful guy whose gallery I posted link to

Aside from marine biology practice, we also had excursions across the station. Teachers pointed and told stories about local wildlife... sadly not including bears--they are cowards and do not approach people.

Our groupTotemPath

But of course, unofficially you could go away from the station and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding world, explore lots of cool places or do something because of insomnia. Absence of nights screws up your inner clock and sleep timing becomes strange.

Beach Rocks Running in the forest

The most unusual thing about the landscape are lichens growing instead of grass. They cover ground like snow. However, it's not recommended to walk on them because unlike grass they do not regenerate and grow painfully slow.

Lichens Typical forest landscape Lichens

The rocks are so spectacular, but sometimes they are slippery. I enjoyed climbing them. Just falling in water is not suggested as it takes just 30 seconds to stop feeling your body.

Rocks Approaching storm Gloomy day

Overall it was a fantastic experience. Like visiting another world. May be one that is mostly inhabited by mosquitoes, but leaving more then mozzie bites, mosquito repellent smell, and frozen and wet legs. It's a kind of place which you will be visiting in your dreams till the end of the life.

The station runs molecular biology classes that are available for everyone (who is willing to pay;) )

Just some more pictures below. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera when I was there, so the pictures are kindly stolen provided by my friends.

Lichens Approaching storm Landscape
Look down A house Landscape
Beach Rocks and water An island
A sunset/sunrise Rainbow A sunset

No comments: