Scientists from the world’s largest mission to the North Pole will return to Germany bearing with them shocking evidence of an Arctic Ocean being destroyed and warnings of ice-free summers in the coming decades.
The team, made up of several hundred scientists from 20 countries, found in itself the dramatic effects of global warming on ice in the region, considered “the epicenter of climate change.” The researchers’ observations are supported by US satellite images showing that in 2020 arctic sea ice reached its second lowest level on record for summer, after 2012.
Polarstern’s mission, dubbed MOSAIC, spent more than a year collecting data from the atmosphere, ocean, ice and ecosystems to help assess the impact of climate change on the region and the world. To carry out the search, four observatories had to be placed on the ice and within a radius of up to 40 kilometers around the ship.
The researchers collected water samples below the surface of the ice during the polar night to study phytoplankton and bacteria and better understand how the marine ecosystem works under extreme conditions. The campaign, which cost 140 million euros, brings with it 150 terabats of data and more than 1,000 ice samples.
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The analysis of the data will take up to two years and will aim to develop models to help predict what form the burning, heavy rainfall and storms will take in 20, 50 or 100 years. Since the ship departed from Tromso, Norway, on September 20, 2019, its crew has experienced months in total darkness, temperatures of up to minus 39.5 degrees Celsius and seen about 20 polar bears.
A multinational team of scientists was due to go aboard as part of a planned change to rest those who had already spent several months on the ice, but the plan had to be reviewed when flights around the world were cancelled as part of an international effort to tackle the spread of the pandemic.