"In 1893, Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen deliberately lodged his wooden ship in the sea ice north of Siberia, hoping that its natural drift would take him to the North Pole. Though the Norwegian scientist failed to reach his desired destination, his three-year-long, 2,000-kilometer journey into the North Atlantic Ocean revealed important data about the then-mysterious Arctic Ocean. Now, an international team of researchers have embarked on a similar journey for a groundbreaking climate change study of the Arctic.
The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition began in Tromso, Norway, in late September 2019. The team's first challenge was finding a suitable floe to moor their research vessel — German icebreaker Polarstern. The ice sheet had to be both strong enough to drag the ship and wide enough to accommodate a landing strip for research and emergency airplanes. It took a few days, but by October 4, 2019, they had identified a 2.5-by-3.5 kilometer (about 1.5-by-2.2 mile) sheet that could do the job. "It may not be the perfect floe, but it's the best one in this part of the Arctic, and offers better working conditions than we could have expected in a warm Arctic summer," said expedition leader Markus Rex of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.
Carried by the floe's drift, the Polarstern will now make its way across the Arctic Ocean at a leisurely pace of 7 km/hr, allowing MOSAiC researchers to record scientific data and test theories about the impact of global warming. For example, it has long been suggested that the phytoplankton population has dramatically increased due to the warmer Arctic water. However, the assumption “is based on remote sensing [only] during the ice-free period. And we don’t have such observations from the central Arctic,” says Rolf Gradinger, who is leading the expedition’s ecosystem team. MOSAiC's year-long observations will help determine if that is indeed the case. The team will also use snowmobiles and helicopters to establish a network of autonomous research stations on the ice to collect additional climate data.
The Polarstern will be refueled and restocked with food and supplies by four different icebreakers at about three-month intervals starting December 2019. The boats will also bring in new teams of scientists and crew members and take back those whose three-month stints are done. All in all, 600 scientists from 19 countries will get a chance to conduct research on this historic $150 million expedition."
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