A Year-Long Drift Through the Ice: The German-Led Research Expedition
At minus 49 degrees Fahrenheit and 150 days of polar darkness, the 14-month, 1,550-mile journey has finally embarked in the Arctic.
Following 8 years of preparation by research institutions across the globe, the German icebreaker, Polarstern, is on a mission to one of the most uninhabitable and inaccessible regions of the planet.
The project, Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC), is the most ambitious and complex research expedition ever attempted in the northern ice.
Its undertaking cost an estimated 158 million dollars, and hundreds of scientists, mechanics, researchers, and meteorologists from over a dozen countries have united in a momentous international effort with the goal of improving our understanding of climate change.
Over the course of the year, 300 scientists from 17 countries will rotate on-board the ship, with each rotation lasting around 2 months. The two ships, the main German vessel, Polarstern, and the accompanying Russian supply ship, will deliberately freeze themselves within an ice floe and drift with the landmass across the Arctic. In the depth of winter, essential supplies will have to be brought by aircraft.
The timing is urgent: "the Arctic is the epicenter of global warming, it is the part of our planet which warms most rapidly, where the warming rates are at least twice the global average," states leader of the MOSAiC expedition and atmospheric scientist Markus Rex, “at the same time the Arctic is the region of the planet where we understand the climate system least.” While trapped in the ice, researchers will spend over a year collecting samples of the ice, snow, water, and wildlife in order to better map out and understand the energy flow and ecosystem of the region.
The conditions on board the vessel, however, will be less than ideal.
Almost half of the expedition’s duration will be taking place in absolute darkness. The sun does not rise above the horizon and the researchers will not see sunlight for months at a time.
The research will be ongoing in weather conditions in the coldest place on Earth, while facing threats of predatory polar bears and treacherous autumnal storms.
An endeavor of this scale and international effort has never been attempted before, and given the isolation and obscurity of the location, the challenges the researchers will face are for the most part unforeseeable. "We don't have any robust climate predictions for the Arctic and the reason is we don't understand the processes there very well," states Rex.
Nonetheless, the vessel is far from ill-equipped. The ships carry more than a million pounds of scientific equipment and analysts have spent years preparing crew members and the boat itself for worst-case scenarios.