In October 2019, the research icebreaker Polarstern (“Polar Star”) will drop anchor at an ice floe in the northern Laptev Sea, marking the beginning of a year-long international investigation into Earth’s Arctic. The expedition is called MOSAiC – Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate – and it’ll spend the coming year trapped and drifting in the sea ice. In a statement about the expedition, released by the European Space Agency (ESA) on September 24, 2019, scientists said it is:
… the biggest shipborne polar expedition of all time.
And – although there’ve been many expeditions to the Arctic over time – this one is sure to be among the harshest. Roughly 100 people will be researching, working and living on board the icebreaker and on the sea ice itself. They’ll brave the upcoming polar winter, which will feature 24-hour darkness, storms and temperatures that can drop to -40 degrees Fahrenheit (also -40 degrees Celsius). The expedition will include scientists from many nations. It’s being spearheaded by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) of the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, based in Bremerhaven, Germany. Christian Haas – a sea ice expert at AWI – commented:
We want to better understand the processes and energy flows between the ocean, ice and atmosphere – and how they change over the course of the seasons.
We will also compare the data with satellite data, in particular with ESA’s CryoSat, which was specifically launched to measure ice thickness. This will allow us to observe how the ice grows and becomes thinner.
The MOSAiC expedition offers a unique opportunity to considerably improve our understanding of ocean–ice-snow–atmosphere processes and this will contribute to a more accurate modelling of future Arctic climate scenarios.
We want to make sure that data associated with these processes delivered by ESA satellites and by the Copernicus Sentinels as well as from missions under development have the best possible impact. So we are contributing to the expedition with a range of calibration and validation activities.
For example, as Dr. Haas mentions that arrangements have been made for measurements to be taken that will be used to validate CryoSat, but also that validate the Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission.
[The report] says that the five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record and that sea-level rise has accelerated significantly over the same period as carbon dioxide emissions have hit new highs.
However, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Since Earth’s climate works as a system, the consequences of this rapid warming are not only being felt in this remote polar region, but also across the planet.
Needless to say, a better scientific understanding of the complexities of the fragile Arctic environment is critical for policy decisions on climate-change mitigation and adaptation, and for setting up a framework for managing Arctic development sustainably.
Bottom line: The largest-ever shipborne expedition to the Arctic will drop anchor at an ice floe in the northern Laptev Sea in October 2019, then spend a year trapped in Arctic ice.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.