Voyagers to the ‘epicenter of global warming’ struggle with bears, storms and thin ice
Not long after the Arctic sun set for the final time last year, a ferocious storm descended on the isolated, icebound crew of the research vessel Polarstern.
The polar night filled with the gunshot cracks of fracturing ice and the howls of 60 mph winds. The ship heaved, power cables snapped and a 100-foot meteorology tower toppled. A tremendous fissure opened in the floe to which the Polarstern was fixed, exposing the ocean waves. Researchers scrambled onto the ice to retrieve and restore their instruments.
Hundreds of miles from the nearest source of help, the scientists were both unnerved and utterly exhilarated. This was exactly the sort of drama they were seeking when they set out to document climate change at the top of the world.
The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC), which began in late September, is the biggest Arctic research expedition in history. A rotating cast of more than 300 researchers will spend a year stuck in the sea ice aboard the Polarstern, moving only at the speed of the ice’s natural drift. Their goal is to understand the complex and rapidly changing Arctic system before it collapses. What they discover could help forecast the future of the entire globe.