Longest Scientific Expedition You’ve Never Heard Of…

In a year long expedition to study polar ice from 2019 to 2020, international scientists lived on an ice-breaker ship purposely trapped in the Arctic ice. We saw a documentary on public television about their day to day life as the winter ice shelf pushed them 3400 km (2113 mi). Their foray into polar night was eclipsed by the international pandemic, from which they were effectively quarantined.

Polarstern German Ice Breaker Ship Photo: Janek Uin

In the recent past, scientists made approximate measurements of the polar ice from satellites. The exact measurements they were able to take while living in midst of the frozen expanse gave a clearer idea of the effects of global warming on the northern pole. Scientists found the ice was much thinner than they had perceived from aerial measurements. Their expedition observed the conditions; the least area of ice, and the thinnest, for the fewest days of any previously recorded. Polar ice is essential to the healthy growth of plankton and as a reflector for the sun.

Polarstern at sunset Photo: Stefan Hendricks

Three groups of Spanish researchers joined the effort, including Manuel Dall’Osto from the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar (CSIC) who arrived in 2020 after a 14 day quarantine. Six hundred scientists from 19 countries participated in this climate study led by the German Alfred Wegener Institute. Estel Cardellach of the CSIS, also a Spanaird from Cataluña, explains the usefulness of the GPS signals, once they are calibrated with measurements during their year in the ice, “These signals, after reflecting on the ice, may be detected and analyzed to extract information about the sea ice: its thickness, its roughness, the quantity of salt, the presence of water on the surface…” (my translation from the Europa Azul article https://europa-azul.es/mosaic/) Their great hope is that their studies will confirm that this measuring technique using remote sensing will be precise enough so that they can use it to monitor the poles at all times, at a low cost.

The expedition lasted 389 days!

Had you heard about the MOSAiC research?

¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

14 thoughts on “Longest Scientific Expedition You’ve Never Heard Of…

  1. I’ve never heard of this expedition, but given that it occurred right when the pandemic exploded, it’s not a surprise that this pieces of news was pushed aside for other ones. All the same, very fascinating!

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  2. I actually had heard about it because it‘s a German-led expedition; there was a TV feature about them when they started (IIRC) and also Skype interviews when the pandemic hit. What a place to be quarantined in, huh?

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  3. I read a book called, “Farthest North”, about the early days of arctic exploration and the race to be the first to get to the north pole. Rather than try to get there by foot, several expeditions froze themselves into the ice in hopes of drifting with it to the pole. Some got close (~400 miles) and lasted for over two years.

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