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.
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