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A fortress of ice and snow. The Polarstern’s 12-month expedition to the Arctic

PortandTerminal.com, January 19, 2020

In September 2019, the German research icebreaker Polarstern set sail from Tromsø, Norway, to spend a year drifting through the Arctic Ocean – trapped in ice. The name of their mission is MOSAiC.

The goal of the MOSAiC expedition is to take the closest look ever at the Arctic as the epicenter of global warming and to gain fundamental insights that are key to better understand global climate change. The MOSAiC expedition will bring a modern research icebreaker close to the north pole for a full year including for the first time in polar winter. The conditions as you might imagine are extreme.

MOSAiC is the largest exploration expedition to the Arctic of all time: trapped in ice, the German research vessel Polarstern will drift for a year through the Arctic Ocean.

Right now (January 19) the vessel is sitting close to the north pole surrounded by an ice ridge measuring between 23 – 30 feet thick.

Polarstern’s position as of 4:00 pm Atlantic time, January 19, 2020

During each phase of the expedition, roughly one hundred people will be researching, working and living on board the icebreaker Polarstern and on the surface ice of the Arctic Ocean. The researchers and crew, together with their gear, will be rotated every two to three months conditions permitting.

A scientist in the Arctic standing on an ice hill with a light at nighttime keeping watch for bears.
A bear watch is present on the Polarstern bridge as soon as scientific teams work on the ice. Supported by another scientist also at watch with binoculars and infrared cameras, they have an eye on the surroundings and look out for polar bears.

The logistical planning for MOSAiC has to overcome the challenge of safely and reliably transporting staff and equipment to one of the most remote – and hostile – regions on Earth. Doing so with supply ice breakers is not possible during the near half year-long period from February to June when the ice is too thick to be broken.

Aeroplanes are for the most part infeasible either: the Arctic weather, the long Polar Night or adverse ice conditions often make it impossible to maintain and operate a runway on the ice. And helicopters are not an option during phases of the expedition when the drifting Polarstern is simply too far away even from the specially set up fuel depots on the northernmost Siberian Islands.


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