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ARCTIC: Scientists hit the ice to study polar cycles

Scientists from 19 countries, including China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States embarked on a U.S. $158 million expedition in September 2019 to work together in one of the world’s most inhospitable regions. Packed full of scientific equipment, the German icebreaker RV Polarstern, pictured, left the port of Tromsoe in northern Norway, accompanied by a Russian vessel, to search for a suitably large floe in the Arctic on which to set up a base.

As the days get shorter and the sea freezes, the Polarstern will slowly drift toward the North Pole while rotating teams of dozens of scientists spend two months each conducting research on the ice.

Stefanie Arndt, a sea ice physicist, said darkness will be the biggest challenge. “Everyone worries about the cold, but the psychological aspect of not seeing anything and knowing there are polar bears out there is something that shouldn’t be underestimated,” she said.

To prepare themselves for such encounters, scientists working on the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) participated in firearms training.

Arndt, who will join the mission in mid-February 2020, said the advantage of MOSAiC is that researchers will observe Arctic processes across an entire seasonal cycle. “What’s particularly interesting is the transition from winter to spring,” she said, a time when the ice is typically too thick for ships to reach the Central Arctic.

Recording changes in the density, size and type of snow will help scientists better understand energy flow. Energy from light affects algae growth and ocean temperatures, which influence how much sea ice melts from below. Understanding such complex processes is essential for the computer models scientists use to predict weather and climate.

The Associated Press

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