Climate Researchers to Spend a Year Floating with Polar Ice

A team of scientists and researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany are preparing for what promises to be one of the longest and most challenging research expeditions in recent memory. More than 60 climatologists and other specialists – along with a crew of 40 – will board a ship called the Polarstern today to set out for the Arctic. The plan is for that ship to travel as far north as it can, cut its engines, become frozen in the polar ice, and then drift with the ice floes to see where the ocean takes them. All told, they are prepared to be out on the water for 12-14 months with the hopes of collecting data on the impact of climate change on the polar regions.

The Polarstern will set out from Tromso, Norway and rendezvous with a Russian icebreaker this evening then sail for two weeks into the heart of the Laptev Sea, which is located north of Central Siberia. It is there that the ship will search for a pre-chosen ice floe, which has been identified using satellite maps. One that floe is located, the vessel will turn of its engines, the icebreaker will turn around and head home, and the crew of the Polarstern will be truly on their own in the Arctic.

Once frozen in the ice, it is believed that the ship will drift potential as far north as the North Pole, before continuing its journey to the south and west. Eventually it will arrive in the Fram Strait, which is located between Greenland and the Svalbard Archipelago. Exactly how long that will take is yet to be determined, but it is expected to take at least a year.

The goal of the research project is to examine how warming temperatures will impact the Arctic. That has been the subject of much debate and study in recent years, but this team hopes to connect the relationships between the ocean, snow, ice, and atmosphere to gather new insights into how each of those things impacts the other. We already know that the Arctic sea ice is getting thinner and extending less and less further south, but what that means for the long-term health of the region and the planet as a whole is open to conjecture. The scientists aboard the Polarstern hope to provide better insights into that and more.

The New York Times posted a great article about this expedition and its research mission yesterday. You can read the entire thing here. It shares more details about the expedition, the team, its goals, and a whole lot more. You can also learn more from the team’s official website as well.

Kraig Becker