The Horizon Magazine (The EU Research & Innovation Magazine) recently published an article "A day on the Polarstern: studying climate change up close" written by Annette Ekin, featuring the ARICE cruise taking place on board Polar Research Vessel Polarstern.

Polarstern is the key vessel in the MOSAiC Project and is spending 350 days (September 2019 until September 2020) frozen into the drifting Arctic sea ice. Over the period around 300 scientists will be on board the vessel investigating the Arctic climate processes that couple the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, bio-geochemistry and ecosystem. The results of the MOSAiC project will enhance the understanding of the regional and global consequences of Arctic climate change and sea-ice loss, and improve weather and climate predictions.

On 20 January, sea ice researcher Dr Polona Itkin of UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø spoke to Annette Ekin from the Horizon Magazine from the the research vessel Polarstern. She explained how it is to work through the polar night, the shortcomings of satellite data and fending off polar bears.

 “We’re on a big research icebreaker, which is doing something unusual – it is not moving. (Currently) we are at around 87 (degrees) north, and (about) 95 (degrees) east, drifting northwest. The crew is maintaining the ship, which is a big hostel-workshop, and we (scientists) are most of the time out on the ice doing snow and ice research, (at least) in my group (where I’m the current ice team lead).”

According to Dr Polona the team arrived on December 15th and “are carrying on with the research the people before us did. There is always the same ice around us, (but) it can suddenly break up. It is like it's growing into a garden. And we want to measure and understand everything, so we are very busy going into our garden and digging in snow and ice. It's very exciting. It’s very beautiful. We all have to have headlamps because it's the polar night. There will be no sunlight until mid-February.”

The temperature in the area is around minus 30°C, but with the wind it can quickly get below minus 45°C wind chill. As Dr Polina explains in the article “We have to keep our faces completely covered or out of the wind. If you look into the wind, you can get frostbite”

Dr Polina explains the challenges of MOSAiC (the year-long expedition). “We’re doing our best to do our work and preserve the environment. (When) we leave, we’re taking everything (all of our equipment) with us”.

Polarstern in arctic waters

Dr Polina is working on the DEARice project which is funded by ARICE and part of the MOSAiC experiment. The duration of the project is from September 2019 to June 2020 and the Principal Investigator is Martin Schneebeli from the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalances Research SLF, Switzerland. 

Polona Itkin

The project DEARice will use the most modern instruments to measure how snow, sea ice and the associated ecosystem interact and develop. Our measurements will help representing these relationships in the climate models. Why is the arctic sea ice a continuously evolving “landscape”? Sea ice and snow are both frozen water very close to their melting point. As such they are constantly changing its micro-structure. This gives micro-organisms always new spaces to live in. The sea ice is growing from the ocean under the cold winter atmosphere and is melted back into the ocean by warm air and sun-rays in summer. On a larger scale, the mechanical deformation breaks up the ice and piles up ice ridges, a chaotic build of ice blocks of different sizes, which are conceptually similar to a coral reef. They create cavities at different scales, providing a habitat for micro-organisms. The diverse surface and underwater shapes provide various surfaces that can be dragged by the forces of wind and currents. DEARice will document these situations and developments at the smallest, microscopic scales, somewhat larger meter-scales and up to tens-of-kilometer scales. This will help us connecting the smallest, but important processes to the scales that are used to represent Earth climate in numerical.

To read the full interview with Dr Polina please click on the source.

This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation magazine.

Source: Horizon Magazine - photos are from the article, please click on the images to see the photocredit

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