Start of the largest Arctic research expedition ever | Polarjournal
The “Polarstern” in the Weddell Sea. Use of the on-board headlights. Polar Star Expedition ANT-XXIX/6 from June 8 – August 12, 2013. The cruise was the first Antarctic winter expedition since 2006. (Photo: Stefan Hendricks)

After a decade of preparations, the time had come: on September 20, 2019, at 8:30 p.m., the German icebreaker “Polarstern” left the harbor in Tromsø, Norway. Accompanied by the Russian icebreaker “Akademik Fedorov”, it sets course for the central Arctic. On board, scientists are exploring a region that is almost inaccessible in winter and is crucial for the global climate. They are collecting much-needed data on the interaction between the atmosphere, ocean and sea ice, and on the polar ecosystem. Thanks to the collaboration of international experts, the year-long ice drift past the North Pole is taking climate research to a new level.

Last loading of Polarstern, while Russian icebreaker “Akademik Fedorov” arrives in Tromsø. The Russian icebreaker is the first supply vessel during the MOSAiC expedition, delivering scientific equipment and fuel for the “Polarstern”. September 19, 2019 (Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute)

Hardly any other region has warmed as much as the Arctic has in recent decades. At the same time, there is a lack of year-round observations from the ice-covered Arctic Ocean. The MOSAiC expedition now brings for the first time a modern research icebreaker for a whole year in the ice drift and ice drift for an entire year, enabling scientists to conduct research near the North Pole research near the North Pole. The climate processes there are one piece of the puzzle they are missing to make better projections of global climate change. This is because it is suspected that the strong warming in the Arctic will have is having an enormous impact on temperate latitudes.

The MOSAiC expedition under the leadership of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) is associated with unprecedented challenges. challenges. An international fleet of 4 icebreakers, helicopters and aircraft and airplanes supplies the team on this extreme route. A total of 600 international participants, half of them scientists, will accompany the mission.

Prof. Dr. Antje Boetius, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute)

“Since 2011, our scientists have been working on the idea of enabling a major mission to the North Pole region. The “Polarstern” will be frozen into the ice to use it as a safe shelter when research is being carried out on the sea ice under extreme sea ice under extreme conditions. We have brought together the world’s best Arctic researchers from many disciplines to get this mission off the ground. As recently as 2011, we could not have imagined how thin the sea ice and how warm the winters have become. So it’s high time for for the expedition to set off and gather data and images of a region that is changing changing faster than we can explore it.”

Markus Rex, expedition leader MOSAiC, at the MOSAiC training in Ny-Ålesund. (Photo: Esther Horvath)

“This expedition is groundbreaking. Never before has there been such a complex Arctic expedition. For the first time we will be able to measure the climate processes of the Central Arctic in winter. For the first time we will understand this region and correctly represent it in climate models. The Arctic is the epicenter of global warming with dramatic changes already today. And it is the weather kitchen for our weather in Europe. Extreme weather conditions such as wintertime outbreaks of arctic cold air reaching us or extremely hot phases in summer are connected with the changes in the Arctic. At the same time, the uncertainties of our climate models are nowhere as large as in the Arctic. There are no reliable forecasts of how the Arctic climate will develop in the future and what this will mean and what that means for the weather here. It is our mission to change that.”

Captain Stefan Schwarze stands in front of the icebreaker “Polarstern” in the dry dock at Lloyd Werft in Bremerhaven. (Photo: Esther Horvath)

“The “Polarstern” will soon be 40 years old. years old – and is not only an outstanding icebreaker, but also has excellent sea-keeping capabilities. Often good icebreakers are bad seagoing ships. But this does not apply to the “Polarstern”, and that makes her unique. The “Polarstern” is the center of the MOSAiC expedition: where everything revolves around, and where everyone returns to should anything go wrong. The “Polarstern” is our rock, so to speak. Even if everything should go wrong, “Polarstern is still there” – and it is my job as captain.”

Sea and ice training in Finland in preparation for the MOSAiC expedition (Photo: Roland Kerstein)

The two icebreakers will be in in visual contact with each other and take course across the Barents and Kara Seas into the central Arctic. After about two weeks, they are expected to reach the target region at 130 degrees east and 85 degrees north. The first of a total of six teams will look for a suitable ice floe on which to build a complex research camp. The scientists find themselves in a race against time race against time, because just a few days after their arrival, the sun no longer rises above the horizon. Another challenge will be the critical sea ice situation in the target region. The extent of sea ice has decreased considerably there this year. Satellite images also show hardly any multi-year ice, but mainly thinner one-year ice.

The research camp connects the expedition members with a network of measuring stations, which some of the with the escort icebreaker “Akademik Fedorov” within a radius of 50 kilometers. 20 young polar researchers, graduate and Phd levels, have the unique opportunity to participate in the MOSAiC School on the “Akademik Fedorov” and to participate in the start-up phase of the expedition and to learn polar expeditions at first hand. As soon as the distributed network is completed, the two icebreakers will meet for a final icebreakers will meet for a final exchange of crew and equipment before “Akademik Fedorov” returns to Tromsø, where it is expected to arrive on October 30. The scientists on board the “Polarstern” will remain on board until mid December and will then be replaced by the second team. More supplies and team changes will follow next year. An accompanying flight campaign is planned for spring 2020 for which a runway will be built on the sea ice. The “Polarstern” will break free from the sea ice in late summer 2020 between Greenland and Spitsbergen and will then set course for her home port in Bremerhaven, where she is expected in mid-October 2020.

Source: AWI, Bremerhaven

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