The Largest Arctic Expedition Ever Is Freezing Itself in the Ice, Here’s Why

The Largest Arctic Expedition Ever Is Freezing Itself in the Ice, Here’s Why


Last month, hundreds of researchers from all
over the world started the largest-ever Arctic expedition aboard a ship just over 500 kilometers
from the North Pole. What makes this project even more unique is that the entire ship will
be frozen, embedded in sea ice for an entire year. So it begs the question, why are they
even doing this? For starters, it’s the most ambitious climate
change expedition ever attempted of the Arctic. The Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory
for the Study of Arctic Climate, or MOSAiC, will be studying the effects of a warming
climate on the central Arctic’s atmosphere, ice, ocean, and ecosystems. By drifting with
the ice for a year, the team will be able to collect the necessary information to create
better climate models to help inform what the Arctic will look like as it continues
to warm. “For us, there are a number of knowns and
unknowns. The knowns are that we are going out to the Arctic with all kinds of instrumentation,
more than there’s ever been on a ship before out in the Arctic. We know we’re going to
get a lot of first measurements of many types of data. It’s our first look at things like winter time aerosol properties, first look at like scanning cloud radar measurements. Then there’s a lot of unknowns, and those are really related to the conditions that we’re going to encounter there.
So the sea ice, we’re really at the mercy of the sea ice.”
When they arrived at their destination, the German icebreaker, called Polarstern, chose
the perfect ice floe to attach itself to, a crucial part of this mission since the ice
needs to withstand the weight of heavy instruments. This ice floe will serve as the so-called
‘ice camp’ for the expedition’s experiments and a landing strip for research planes. Once
frozen in place, the scientists will have to set up camp quickly, as winter is coming
for roughly 150 days, and come November, they’ll be operating in complete darkness.
And that is when nature takes over. Drifting at about 7 km per day, the frozen ship hopes
to follow the path taken by ice floes along a phenomenon called the transpolar drift.
This path will allow the ship to drift from the pole and move south towards the Fram Strait,
located east of Greenland, where the expedition will come to a close.
The ship will have about 100 people aboard at a time. It will be frozen in place, in complete darkness, while research continues. And the Polarstern will be at the
center of most of MOSAiC’s research, containing laboratories and technical equipment onboard
to take measurements and observe the environment. At the base camp, experiments will be divided
into different hubs like ROV City, which will use remotely operated vehicles to observe
marine organisms and collect water samples from beneath the ice. Or MET city which will
measure the composition of the atmosphere using tethered balloons, which will continuously
float 2 km above the camp. On top of all the research, the Polarstern will have a distributed
network of observational sites operating within a 50 km radius of the ship, which will be
equipped with remote and autonomous sensors to collect additional oceanic, ice, and atmospheric
data. “At the end of our year in the Arctic, we’re going to learn a lot about the new Arctic system. With thinner sea ice, with the interactions that are
adapting themselves to the change, we’re going to learn a lot about how the Arctic is manifesting.”
And in the spirit of collaboration, the researchers will upload their information to a database,
making it accessible to their hundreds of MOSAiC colleagues worldwide. So we’ll just
have to wait and see the anticipated results of this expedition that could help us better
map the future of our planet. Are there any other scientific expeditions
that you’d like to see us cover, let us know down in the comments. Make sure to subscribe
to Seeker and thanks for watching.