It is the first year-long expedition into the central Arctic, which is researching the climate system there. Tomorrow, the research icebreaker Polarstern of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven will start its journey from Norway's Tromsø to the Arctic Ocean. For 200 kilometers, atmospheric physicist Mark Rex, who leads the expedition, and his team plan to drift past the geographic North Pole, docked to an ice floe.
"I'm sure that will help us make a breakthrough in climate research," said Rex. Because the Arctic is the epicenter of global climate change. Nowhere is global warming advancing as fast as there. "At the same time, the Arctic is also the region of our planet where we understand the climate system to be the worst."
This is also because the Arctic Ocean is actually only accessible in summer. Although autonomous measuring buoys have already provided data from the winter Arctic in the past. However, such complex experiments as they can now be made were not possible before. "There has never been an Arctic expedition on this scale," said Rex.
Thin ice could be a problem
More than 70 scientific institutes from nearly 20 countries and hundreds of researchers are involved in the 140 million Euro project Mosaic . Parts of the crew of 100 people will change six times during the year. The Polarstern is supplied by four other icebreakers and three aircraft. Up to a thousand kilometers will be between the Polarstern and the mainland.
An exact route is not defined. Because the Polarstern will turn off the engine and drift with the sea ice, docked to a ice floe. The Arctic sea ice mainly forms off the coast of Siberia - the region that is considered by some to be the birthplace of Arctic ice sheets. From there, the ice drifts slowly across the Central Arctic and after one year is transported via the Fram Strait east of Greenland to the south to the Atlantic, where it finally melts.
First, it is important to find the optimal ice floe. Finally, a kilometer-long network of stations will be set up to take samples from the water, the ice and the atmosphere. At a height of 35,000 meters, the highest, at 4,000 meters, the deepest measurement is made. The ice should be at least 1.50 meters thick. On satellite images, however, it looks as if the ice is only 80 centimeters thick, said Rex.
This could be a problem for the planned construction of a runway for aircraft. "Maybe we have to go further north than planned to find the right conditions," says geophysicist Christian Haas, who will lead the drive after Markus Rex. Should the ice not be thick enough, a Russian Antonov could not land on the floe as planned, but only lighter planes.
"We have to reduce global emissions very quickly"
A danger to the scientists of the expedition are polar bears. But even the ground can be dangerous. "We're working on a dynamic surface, there may be a gap that you can not see because it's blown by the snow, and then someone can fall into the sea," Rex said. In such cases, the team wears special suits outside the ship, which are buoyant in the water and keep warm for a long time.
For medical emergencies a surgeon accompanies the expedition, an operating room is on board. The doctor must be able to treat fractures, heart attacks or burns equally. Because it may take weeks to get a patient off the shelf. Even in the best case, it will take four days for the person to be in the hospital, Rex said.
The Arctic plays an important role in global climate change. Already during the expedition - beginning of 2020 - the first data will be analyzed. If all goes well, the Polarstern comes in the fall of 2020 between Spitsbergen and Greenland out of the ice. For Rex is already clear: "We must now very quickly reduce the global emissions of greenhouse gases, as the scientific results speak a clear language."
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