Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Celebrating the Arctic

How Polar Explorer Day became a holiday for two million Russians

21 may 2022

21.05.2022 // In Russia, Polar Explorer Day is celebrated on 21 May. This holiday is dedicated not only to famous pioneers, but also to all the people who have contributed to the development of the Russian Arctic zone.

Polar Explorer Day was added to the national holiday calendar relatively recently, in 2013. The initiative was proposed by oceanologist, First Vice-President of the Russian Geographical Society and Honorary Polar Explorer of Russia Artur Chilingarov. Polar Explorer Day was established by a decree of Russian President Vladimir Putin on 21 May 2013.

Today, the term 'polar explorer' encompasses not only the people working at Arctic research stations and members of expeditions to the North and South Poles, but also geologists, oceanologists, oil and gas industry workers, and all the residents of Russia's Arctic zone, of which there are almost 2.4 mn.

«"This holiday is a tribute to the outstanding achievements of people from different professions who have devoted their lives to the exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic. Many generations of brave and stout-hearted scientists, geologists, builders, sailors and pilots have selflessly served the Fatherland. Their heroic deeds and work have made Russia the great Arctic power that it is today", said President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

The holiday is celebrated on 21 May because it was on this day in 1937 that the world's first drifting research station North Pole-1 was launched and Arctic pilot Mikhail Vodopyanov made the world's first landing on the ice near the Geographic North Pole, deploying a drogue parachute to deliver the expedition members to the station. The group he brought to the station consisted of four explorers, who later came to be known as Papanin's men after the name of the expedition leader Ivan Papanin, and a dog named Vesely (lit.: Merry). Almost immediately after landing, the polar explorers set out to solve the first difficult task of providing weather data for the trans-Arctic flights of Valery Chkalov and Mikhail Gromov from the USSR to North America.

Every day they took soil samples, measured depth and drift velocity, and conducted magnetic, hydrological and meteorological observations. Each day brought new discoveries, with the first one being that water under the ice on which the station stood was 4,290 m deep. The expedition was not only difficult, but also dangerous. After the ice floe broke several times, it was decided to evacuate the explorers. By the time the ice floe crossed the strait between Greenland and Svalbard and ended up in the Greenland Sea, it had shrunk from about 4 sq. km. to no more than 30 m in width. On 19 February 1938, the explorers were picked up by the icebreakers Taymyr and Murman.

The expedition covered more than 2,000 km in 274 days and collected unique data that played an important role in the development of Russian science. It obtained the first reliable information about the natural processes occurring at high latitudes. This data provided the basis for research that marked the beginning of the development of the North Sea Route and the real exploration of the Arctic by man. The names of the first polar explorers—Ivan Papanin, Pyotr Shirshov, Evgeny Fyodorov and Ernst Krenkel—went down in history. In recognition of their efforts, the four men were awarded the titles of Heroes of the Soviet Union.


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