Friday, 31 July 2020

Leb' wohl, Polarstern!

It just so happened that I was reviewing an old Inside Science feature when the closing press release for the MOSAIC expedition was being issued.

On Friday, 20 September, a powerful German icebreaker named Polarstern set off from Tromsø, Norway, with the aim of getting stuck into the polar ice. This echoed a famous experiment by the Norwegian explorer Nansen in his ship Fram in the 1890s.

The plan was for the ship to drift past the North Pole, enabling scientists to collect unprecedented data on the Arctic. The Polarstern is the ‘mothership’ of a substantial international collaboration called the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (or project MOSAiC). Scientists from over seventy research institutions across 19 different countries were involved, and a total of six hundred experts were aboard at various periods throughout the expedition. They planned to construct a ‘research city’ around the vessel with different neighbourhoods, each focused on a particular scientific area including: ecosystem, bio-geo-chemistry, ocean, atmosphere and sea ice. Adam spoke to UCL’s Professor Julienne Stroeve, who was to look at the depth and density of snow in order to improve our understanding of the Arctic, and enhance our ability to predict effects of global climate change. She was concerned that surveys of ice thickness from satellites such as ESA's Cryosat-2 over-estimated the thickness of ice because of the take-up of salt by young snow affecting the radar signal. Measuring on site would assist any necessary re-calibration of the satellite data.

MOSAiC is spearheaded by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany. There is more here.

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