Russian scientists are evacuating a research station built on an Arctic ice floe because global warming has melted the ice to a fraction of its original size, a spokesman said.
The North Pole-35 station, where 21 researchers and two dogs live in huts, will be taken off the floe in the western Arctic Ocean this week instead of in late August as originally planned, said Sergei Balyasnikov of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg.
The research crew landed in early September on the 1.2- by 2.5-mile floe near the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. During its westward drift of more than 1,550 miles, the floe shrank to just 1,000 by 2,000 feet.
"The evacuation is ahead of schedule because of global warming," Balyasnikov said.
The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika will escort the research vessel Mikhail Somov to the station, which is drifting between the Franz Josef Land archipelago and the island of Novaya Zemlya in the western Arctic.
The researchers are packing up their winterized huts and equipment to prepare for the ships' arrival, Balyasnikov said.
Over the last 60 years, Russia has organized dozens of stations that collect data on weather and Arctic flora and fauna. Soviet polar researchers were hailed as heroes, and the results of their journeys were once hailed as unique achievements of Communist science.
Russia recently resumed the tradition of using polar research to make political points.
Russia last year sent an expedition to plant a Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole and said research indicates a massive underwater mountain range in the area, which is believed to contain huge oil and gas reserves, is part of Russia's continental shelf.