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After Year on Ice, the Biggest Arctic Research Mission Is Done

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The Polarstern amidst Arctic sea ice.

The Polarstern amidst Arctic sea ice.
Photo: NOAA, University of Colorado, Boulder, and MOSAiC

The largest Arctic research campaign in history just came to a close. For more than a year, a rotating group of roughly 500 scientists and staffers have been traveling the region on a research vessel called the Polarstern as part of the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate expedition, or MOSAiC.

The expedition began last September, when a team packed the ship with 1 million pounds of equipment and set off from Norway toward the North Pole. They then attached the vessel to an ice floe north of Siberia and let it carry them westward for thousands of miles. This allowed the multidisciplinary group of researchers to closely observe the Arctic’s air, ice, and ecosystems to learn more about them and their bearing on our changing climate.

The team studied everything from zooplankton and polar bears to sea ice and wind patterns. Along the way, they encountered many difficulties. At several points, for instance, the ice broke up more than they expected it would and forced them to change their planned path. They also saw dangerous storms, which in more than one case damaged their equipment. At one point, an Arctic fox chewed through data cables—seriously. And of course, there was the covid-19 pandemic, which forced them to pause the expedition for three weeks after a crew member getting ready to deploy to the vessel tested positive, delaying some of their research.

Illustration for article titled After More Than a Year on the Ice, the Biggest Arctic Research Mission Is Complete

Photo: Lianna Nixon, CIRES/University of Colorado, Boulder

The unique nature of the science and circumstances of the pandemic wasn’t the only time the expedition made news; its controversial, sexist dress code prohibiting women from wearing tight clothes also garnered backlash. Despite these challenges, the scientists arrived back on

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Scientists return from Arctic with wealth of climate data

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BERLIN (AP) — An icebreaker carrying scientists on a year-long international effort to study the high Arctic has returned to its home port in Germany carrying a wealth of data that will help researchers better predict climate change in the decades to come.

The RV Polarstern arrived Monday in the North Sea port of Bremerhaven, from where she set off more than a year ago prepared for bitter cold and polar bear encounters — but not for the pandemic lockdowns that almost scuttled the mission half-way through.

“We basically achieved everything we set out to do,” the expedition’s leader, Markus Rex, told The Associated Press by satellite phone as it left the polar circle last week. “We conducted measurements for a whole year with just a short break.”

The ship had to break away from its position in the far north for three weeks in May to pick up supplies and rotate team members after coronavirus restrictions disrupted carefully laid travel plans, but that didn’t cause significant problems to the mission, he said.


“We’re bringing back a trove of data, along with countless samples of ice cores, snow and water,” said Rex, an atmospheric scientist at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Ocean Research that organized the expedition.

More than 300 scientists from 20 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China took part in the 150-million-euro ($177-million) expedition to measure conditions in one of the most remote and hostile parts of the planet over the course of a whole year.

Much of the information will be used to improve scientists’ models of global warming, particularly in the Arctic, where change has been happening at a faster pace than elsewhere on the planet.

As part of the expedition, known by its acronym MOSAiC, the Polarstern anchored to

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Biggest North Pole mission back from ‘dying Arctic’

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Researchers on the world’s biggest mission to the North Pole returned to Germany on Monday, bringing home devastating proof of a dying Arctic Ocean and warnings of ice-free summers in just decades.

The German Alfred Wegener Institute’s Polarstern ship returned to the port of Bremerhaven after 389 days spent drifting through the Arctic trapped in ice, allowing scientists to gather vital information on the effects of global warming in the region.

“I have waited for this moment for so long that my heart is palpitating. The ship is now back,” said institute director Antje Boetius from on board another ship accompanying the research vessel back to port.

Ahead of their return, mission leader Markus Rex told AFP that the team of several hundred scientists from 20 countries have seen for themselves the dramatic effects of global warming on ice in the region considered “the epicentre of climate change.

“We witnessed how the Arctic ocean is dying,” Rex said. “We saw this process right outside our windows, or when we walked on the brittle ice.”

Underlining how much of the sea ice has melted away, Rex said the mission was able to sail through large patches of open water, “sometimes stretching as far as the horizon”.

“At the North Pole itself, we found badly eroded, melted, thin and brittle ice.”

– ‘Ice-free Arctic’ –

If the warming trend in the North Pole continues, then in a few decades we will have “an ice-free Arctic in the summer”, Rex said.

The researchers’ observations have been backed up by US satellite images showing that in 2020, sea ice in the Arctic reached its second-lowest summer minimum on record, after 2012.

The Polarstern mission, dubbed MOSAIC, spent over a year collecting data on the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice and ecosystems to help assess the

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September 2020 Was Warmest On Record, Arctic Sea Reaches Second Lowest Extent

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September 2020 was the warmest September on record globally, according to scientists at the European Union’s Earth observation program Copernicus. The agency also revealed that the Arctic sea ice is at its second lowest extent since satellite records began in 1979.

September temperatures were well above average in many regions across the globe, including off the coast of northern Siberia, in the middle East, in parts of South America and Australia, with the exception of eastern tropical Pacific. The month was 0.05 C warmer than September 2019, the previous warmest September on record. 

Scientists also said that the temperatures for 2020 are showing a similar pattern to the year 2016 that was the warmest calendar year recorded to date. Whether 2020 surpasses that record would depend on other climate patterns such as La Niña – complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures remained warmer than average in September, continuing a warm spell that has affected different parts of the vast region since early spring. This in turn has affected the Arctic sea ice.

Many densely populated and low-resource countries like India are recording rising temperatures and worsening temperature extremes which disproportionately affect the poorest without the means to cope. And this is set to have an economic impact.

“Given the current adaptation deficit in terms of access to adequate indoor space cooling and large number of outdoor workers and mobility of people in India, large scale health