Russia failed to complete testing of its newest nuclear-powered icebreaker – the largest of its kind in the world – because there was not enough ice in the Arctic to carry out the tests.
The Arctika icebreaker set off on its maiden voyage to the Arctic in September and returned to the city of Murmansk on October 12. The icebreaker’s 4,900-mile voyage was intended to test the ship’s capabilities and explore the commercial potential of the region.
The ship was seen by many as a signal of Russia’s intention to strengthen its presence in the Arctic region. With a length of almost 600 feet and a height of 170 feet, it is considered the most powerful icebreaker ever built.
The state news agency Tass said on Monday that the Arktika had completed its first voyage after travelling through some 1,030 miles of ice. However, the ice is too thin to fully test the ship’s capabilities, Oleg Shchapin, captain of the Arktika delivery team, told the agency.
“The ice tests are likely to be ahead of us this year because the ice tests did not work with a 1.1 [to]1.2 meter thick ice of 3.6 and 3.9 feet. It was thin and loose, and the icebreaker did not receive any resistance. We tried to find a three meter thick ice floe, but without success,” he is quoted as saying.
The Arctic was hit by an unprecedented heat wave this year, with record temperatures in several regions. In June, temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit were recorded in the Russian city of Verkhovyansk – the highest temperature ever measured for an area north of the Arctic Circle.
The Arctic sea ice level also fell to a record low this year. The sea ice minimum, measured on September 15, fell to 1.44 million square miles – the second lowest ever measured.
The unusually warm temperatures in the Russian Arctic have also meant that the ice in Siberia has not yet frozen again. This is the first time the water in this region has not begun to freeze since records began in late October, the Guardian reports.
According to the Barents observer, the Arktika will travel along the Northern Sea Route, ploughing ice in the process. Although it cannot demonstrate its capabilities, Shchapin told Tass that the ship is far superior to its predecessors. “If we came across a block of ice on board the icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, we simply broke through it, and that was still noticeable, while the new icebreaker actually sails without a fuss,” he said.
The Arktika is the first in a series of nuclear-powered ships being built for the purpose of developing the Arctic. According to Tass, Project 22220 ships will sail the western Arctic all year round, allowing more cargo ships to sail the Northern Sea Route.