RSV 421 Commanding Officer Danailov: 32nd Bulgarian Antarctic Expedition Will Chart Seabed around Smith Island for First Time Ever
The 32nd Bulgarian Antarctic Expedition will chart the seabed around Smith Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago, for the first time ever, the Commanding Officer of the Bulgarian naval research vessel Sv. Sv. Kiril i Metodii (RSV 421), Nikolay Danailov, said in an interview for BTA. The ship set sail for the Bulgarian Antarctic Base on Livingston Island from the Black Sea port of Varna on Wednesday, starting the 32nd Bulgarian Antarctic Expedition.
The ship is carrying construction materials for the Bulgarian polar researchers' new lab on Livingston Island. Danailov explained that once they arrive, the cargo should be unloaded within a maximum of six days, so that the lab's construction can begin. Crew members will probably assist in the construction work, he noted. Once that task is complete, the ship's main activity for 45 days will be to make it possible for the scientists to study not only Livingston Island but also other parts of the South Shetland Islands.
Smith Island, which is located some eight hours away from Livingston, is of the biggest interest, Danailov told BTA. The ship will go there to take geomorphological samples, study the terrain, and take samples from the seabed in the area. According to RSV 421's Commanding Officer, the trip to Smith Island will be somewhat of a test for the crew, because there are no navigation charts for the seabed around the island. "We will have to sail at high alert, measuring the depths first and approaching with the ship second," he explained. The Bulgarian seamen will actually chart the seabed: there still are non-researched areas there and it is unclear what lies underwater, he added.
Danailov also told BTA that the crew's ambition is to reach locations further south, where there is ice even in the summer. According to him, the ship will handle such a task wonderfully. "If we're talking about a frozen sea where the ice is 70 to 80 cm in thickness, the ship will have no problems; if the ice is thicker than 1 metre, the situation becomes more delicate," he explained. His other ambition is to go to the Czech base, which is ten hours away from Bulgaria's.
Talking about Antarctica with enthusiasm and respect, Danailov said that people avoid contact with the local inhabitants. The penguins are cautious, though sometimes they show curiosity. "In that case, we move back," Danailov said. The RSV 421's crew adhere to strict standards when they go on land. When disembarking and boarding, they first disinfect their boots. During last year's voyage to Livingston Island, Danailov saw many whales, some of which had offspring the size of half the ship.
Danailov described the scenery on Livingston Island as surrealistic. Words fall short of describing the views there, he added. On same parts, there are only lichens and mosses, probably carried there by seals, sea lions or penguins during their migrations. Crossing the Drake Passage is a success for any man, and these creatures do it twice a year, he noted.
"During this expedition, we will broaden the studies' range and work on greater depths," Danailov also said, specifying that seabed samples will be taken at a depth of up to 100 metres, with the ambition to reach 200 to 300 metres in the future. According to him, that will create opportunities for the Bulgarian scientists. Dives will be made to take samples from the seabed at smaller depths. The scientists will be accompanied by military divers, who will watch out for danger, mostly for the presence of leopard seals, who do not like it at all when someone encroaches on their territory.
This expedition will also study Antarctica's sounds. "The continent is unique in itself, but the sea and ocean themselves 'breathe' very interestingly, particularly because of the presence of floes and the fall of glaciers - that is an extravaganza of sounds that cannot possibly be described: they have to be heard," Danailov said.
When departing from Varna, RSV 421 took on board equipment of Belgian scientists that will collect samples during the voyage. The goal is to study the presence of microplastics in the ocean. "Our experts too have such a project, but they will study the presence of microplastics in the biological species on the continent," he explained.
Help in Antarctica is above all else, he noted. "There, you put aside all kinds of disputes and pettiness. Because, if you do not help, the price may be a person's life," he summarized.
During the 32nd Bulgarian Antarctic Expedition, BTA will publish video interviews with Bulgarian polar researchers, who will talk about their projects and research in Antarctica.