Bremerhaven (dpa) - Everything was actually well planned. The current crew on board the German research ship “Polarstern” was to be replaced in mid-February. But now the process is stalling: dense sea ice in the central Arctic is delaying the exchange for weeks.

The "Kapitan Dranitsyn" supply icebreaker is barely making any progress. "The mood on board the" Polarstern "is very tense," said Chief Scientist Professor Christian Haas. "There is uncertainty as to how to proceed." The colleagues are disappointed that there is no foreseeable return soon.

The "Polarstern" is currently on a unique expedition called "Mosaic": it drifts for a year through the central Arctic, without its own drive, docked on a huge ice floe. Hundreds of people, mainly scientists, are always on board for two months. A change had already worked well in mid-December.

But since that time the sea ice in the winter arctic has grown steadily, it is up to 160 centimeters thick and provided with many dense press ice ridges by stormy winds. Open and thin jobs are rare. And so the “Kapitan Dranitsyn” is struggling slowly - with such high energy consumption that the fuel will not be enough to return to Norway. It is now being considered that another "Kapitan Dranitsyn" icebreaker is on its way home and is refueling the ship.

Ideally, "Kapitan Dranitsyn" will reach "Polarstern" in the next few days, the expedition blog led by the Bremerhaven Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) says: "However, the weather and ice conditions are still adverse." For Markus Rex, who was there on the first leg of the journey, the delays are all within limits: "Anyone who has expedition experience in the polar regions knows that processes can always be delayed." Rex expects the "Kapitan Dranitsyn" to reach Polarstern in the next few days. «It is only 50 nautical miles away. You can see that soon. » She had made good progress in the past 24 hours.

Chief Christian Haas says that every participant was aware that delays could happen. "But we trusted the logistical plans and hoped it wouldn't happen," says Haas. Now it turns out that it was presumptuous to believe that in mid-February a conventionally operated ship would get to the central Arctic. There is no experience with it, not even with the "Kapitan Dranitsyn".

The “Polarstern” left Tromsø in September 2019 and is currently drifting only 150 kilometers from the North Pole without a drive. If the "Kapitan Dranitsyn" managed to get to the "Polarstern" and back to Norway, it would be a "great nautical success", says Haas. Another variant for changing personnel is, according to AWI, the use of on-board helicopters. "But this requires flight weather conditions that are not currently in place," says the blog. Rex says planes are also available in Canada. But better weather is also needed for their use.

Haas believes that the winter journey should have been planned for a longer period than the two months planned. "Of course we have a luxury problem," he admits. Unlike in the days of polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) and his three-year ice drift in the Arctic - which was the model for the Mosaic expedition - researchers today did not want to be away from home for longer than two or three months.

"We are happy and excited to be here," emphasizes Haas. The food was also good. But the team is now very exhausted from work and is longing for a more relaxed time.

Daily Mosaic blog