Seafaring scientists won’t glimpse the sun for 150 daysNovember 2, 2019
It will be a dark, black winter.
In the heart of the central Arctic, scientists have intentionally lodged their 387-foot-long and over 12,000-ton ship, Polarstern, in a sheet of hardy floating ice, called an ice floe. Their mission, MOSAiC (short for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate), is an unprecedented year-long endeavor to drift through the Arctic seas while investigating the harsh, largely inaccessible Arctic climate.
The Arctic is the fastest-warming and changing region on Earth, but there’s still great uncertainty about how much the Arctic will heat up in the decades ahead, as the vast region’s climate is dictated by a complex interaction of warming seas, warming atmosphere, and vastly diminished sea ice. MOSAiC seeks to improve scientists’ grasp of this intricate Arctic world — and its future.
“After a brief but intensive search, we’ve found our home for the months to come,” MOSAiC expedition leader Markus Rex said in a statement on Friday.
MOSAiC noted on Monday that the sun has now set over the Polarstern in the high Arctic, and won’t return for around 153 days. By Nov. 12, there won’t be any sunlight at all.
Of critical importance, MOSAiC will observe Arctic water, atmosphere, and ice to study the reality of “Arctic amplification.” There are a number of processes in the Arctic that are speeding up or amplifying warming in the region, and scientists want to better understand how these mechanisms work.
For example, as Arctic sea ice continues to rapidly decline, this means there’s less bright, white ice to reflect sunlight back into space. Instead, there is now more dark water to absorb more heat, which in turn melts even more floating sea ice. It’s a vicious, ongoing cycle. And when the sunlight returns in March, researchers will be able to watch how this process unfolds in real-time.
“The MOSAiC experiment will provide year-round measurements in the highest northern latitude which will be used to investigate this question of the “Arctic amplification,” Lars Kaleschke, a physicist and sea ice expert at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research told Mashable in September. Kaleschke is a scientist on the expedition.
More than 400 scientists from 19 nations will participate in the seafaring mission, which the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls the “most ambitious research expedition ever to target the central Arctic.”
The Polarstern, which will soon be frozen inside the ice floe, will be resupplied with both rotating scientists and provisions brought by thick-hulled ice-breaking ships from China, Sweden, and Russia.
You can follow their intrepid journey through the Arctic here.