Exploration of the Poles


Setting up of North Pole-1 which was the first ever drifting station


The exploration of the North and South Poles became a race between the Western States and the Soviet Union during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. The Soviet Union wanted to establish communities in the polar regions as well as conditions for long-term scientific study; Joseph Stalin stated that scientific exploration and progress would improve human life. On February 1, 1938, the first drifting station was established and named North Pole-1.

Ivan Papanin at North Pole-1

Led by Ivan Papanin, North Pole-1 had a crew of four which included a Oceanographer, Meteorologist, and Radio Operator. The station lasted for 274 days and traveled over 2500 km but came to an end when their drift started to break apart. The crew worked 16 hours each day measuring the ocean depth, gathering bottom soil samples, measuring the water temperatures, took water samples from different levers, and carried out meteorological observations.

North Pole-1 opened up a door of exploration for the Soviet Union. They were able to learn a lot about the North Pole and the Atlantic Ocean, but they also knew there was much more to learn. To this day Russia conducts North Pole expeditions to continue their research on the Arctic.










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  1. Thank you for sharing this, I had never heard of it! The space race definitely overshadows this, but it is super interesting that scientific exploration competitions/races among states have been going on for so long!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As Catherine mentioned, it’s interesting to see the parallels between polar exploration and the space race. I find it a little difficult to believe that the only reason they wanted to get to the north pole was for scientific reasons– do you think there were ulterior motives on the part of the Soviet Union?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It seemed like their long term goal was to eventually set up communities there. However, it only seems like they have done scientific studies at the North Pole over the years. With North Pole-1 being before WWII, these plans for a “community” may have been plans for a military base. They could have sent the team of scientists to see how stable these drifts were and if they could build a base at the Pole.


  3. My question would be as to why the drift began to break apart? Additionally, it is interesting to understand that although many things were happening within the Soviet Union, internal affairs did not attract all of its attention. The Soviet Union and Russia today remain a competitive country when compared to the rest of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. While they were off the shores of Greenland, they encountered a storm with sever winds. The wind was so strong that it cracked the drift into several pieces and there food and water floated away on another piece. fortunately their radio still worked and they called in to be recused. Once rescued they returned to Moscow as heroes and made the headlines of every newspaper in the Soviet Union.


    1. Your post together with James’ post (on the New Soviet Man and Polar Explorers) do such a good job of highlighting the Soviet commitment to overcoming nature — with technology, determination, and true grit. Nice work.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had never heard of this before! So interesting. We see after the revolution the new Soviet Union embracing science and their own potential something I wrote about in my post on Magnitogorsk. Funny to think their was a race to the poles.


  6. Phil, I thought this was a very unique and informative post. I had no clue that this “Race to Explore the Poles” existed. As some of my fellow peers pointed out, this race was definitely overshadowed by the Space Race. However, it was nonetheless important to not only the exploratory spirit growing in the Soviet Union, but science as well. Very interesting post!


  7. I really enjoyed this post because it goes to show the divide between the Soviet Union and the West. Scientific discovery was on the forefront of the early 19th century; each nation believed that with knowledge comes power. I do agree with some of the other comments that this event was overshadowed by the Space Race because I’ve never heard of the fight to explore the poles! This was really interesting and gave me a new perspective on overall relations between the East and West.


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