Biggest-ever Arctic science mission ends after a year drifting along with frozen sea ice
After a year spent drifting across the top of the world, frozen in sea ice, a German research ship returned home Monday, ending the largest Arctic science expedition in history, one aimed at better understanding a region that is rapidly changing as the world warms.
The ship, the Polarstern, docked at its home port of Bremerhaven nearly 13 months after it left Norway. In October, it became deliberately frozen into the ice north of Siberia, about 350 miles from the North Pole, and drifted north and west for thousands of miles, leaving the little remaining ice for good late last month between Greenland and Norway.
The expedition, with a rotating contingent of about 100 scientists, technicians and crew, encountered nosy polar bears, fierce storms that damaged equipment, changing ice conditions and, most critically, the coronavirus pandemic that scrambled logistics. There were also accusations of sexual discrimination and harassment aboard a Russian support ship that accompanied the Polarstern for the first month.
But the leaders of the $150 million project, known as Mosaic and organized by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany with participants from 19 other countries, noted it as a success. They said the information collected about the ocean, ice, clouds, storms and ecosystems of the Arctic would prove invaluable in helping scientists understand the region, which is warming faster than any other part of the planet.
“It’s a historic milestone for Arctic research,” Markus Rex, an atmospheric scientist at the institute and the expedition leader, said at a news conference. “We come back with a pool of data and samples that will change Arctic research for a long time.”
The region’s sea ice has been steadily shrinking in recent decades,