Global warming is a very real concern in today’s environment. When the German Alfred Wegener Institute’s Polarstern ship spent 389 days drifting through the Arctic trapped in ice it allowed the scientists to gather vital information on the effects of global warming in the region that is virtually untouched from the civilisation.
Upon returning to the port of Bremerhaven, Mission leader Markus Rex told at a press conference “We should really make every effort to preserve this world… for future generations and to use the small chance we still have to do so,”.
He told, how the scientists had seen firsthand the catastrophic effects of global warming on ice in the region that is considered the epicenter of climate change. He further underlined how much of the sea ice has melted away, he said: “the mission was able to sail through large patches of open water, sometimes stretching as far as the horizon.”
“We witnessed how the Arctic ocean is dying, we saw this process right outside our windows, or when we walked on the brittle ice, at the North Pole itself, we found badly eroded, melted, thin and brittle ice.” He added.
The Polarstern mission, dubbed MOSAIC, spent almost a year collecting the data on the atmosphere, sea ice, ocean, and ecosystems to help assess the impact of climate change on the region and the world.
“If the warming trend in the North Pole continues, in a few decades we will have ‘an ice-free Arctic in the summer’” Rex said.
The researchers collected water samples from beneath the ice during the polar night to study plant plankton and bacteria and better understand how the marine ecosystem functions under extreme conditions. To carry out the research, four observational sites were set up on the sea ice in a radius of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) around the ship.
The 140-million-euro (US$165 million) expedition has also brought back 150 terabytes of data and more than 1,000 ice samples. The multitude of parameters will feed into the development of models to help predict what heatwaves, heavy rains or storms could look like in 20, 50, or 100 years.
“For us, the second phase is starting – the analysis of data. A lot of data has returned with the ship and we will likely be busy with it over the next ten years,” said Thomas Krumpen, sea ice physicist.
Rex said, “the team measured more than 100 parameters almost continuously throughout the year and are hoping the information will provide a ‘breakthrough in understanding the Arctic and climate system.’”
Since the ship departed from Tromso in Norway on 20 September 2019, the crew has seen long months of complete darkness, temperatures as low as -39.5 Celsius (-39.1 Fahrenheit) – and more than 60 polar bears. Polar bears that came too close had to be warned off by firing a shot.
But the bigger threat was the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, which left the crew stranded at the North Pole for two months.
A multinational team of scientists was scheduled to fly in as part of a scheduled relay to relieve those who had already spent several months on the ice, but the plan had to be redrawn when flights were canceled across the world as governments scrambled to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
During the course of the expedition, the German ship zigzagged through 3,400 kilometers of ice along a wind-driven route known as the transpolar drift.
The voyage was a huge logistical challenge, not least when it came to feeding the crew – during the first three months, the ship’s cargo included 14,000 eggs, 2,000 litres of milk and 200 kilograms of rutabaga, a root vegetable.
Radiance Calmer, a researcher at the University of Colorado who was on board the Polarstern from June to September, told AFP that stepping out on to the ice was a “magical” moment.
“If you concentrate, you can feel it moving,” she said.