The challenge of the MOSAiC-Expedetion

The central Arctic remains a mysterious and poorly explored location to this day. In the Arctic, there are no permanent research stations since there are no landmasses beneath the thick ice. You can only find islands at the edges of the Arctic. Nansen’s research journey served as the model for the MOSAiC expedition, the largest Arctic expedition of all time. For this colossal task, the research vessel Polarstern was chosen. In September 2019, the Polarstern set sail in search of a suitable ice floe for the ice drift.

Few regions have warmed as significantly in recent decades as the Arctic. The goal of the expedition is, therefore, to better understand the Arctic’s influence on global climate. It will be a milestone for climate research, and its data will be valuable for generations to come. The mission, led by the Alfred Wegener Institute, is associated with unprecedented challenges.

The research begins in October 2019 in darkness: the Polarstern drifts through the bitterly cold and pitch-dark winter months of the polar night across the Arctic Ocean. The spotlights of the Polarstern and the headlamps of the expedition participants are the only sources of light during this time. In the middle of the sea ice, the expedition participants set up a research camp with various stations. Here, they conduct measurements and ice core drillings, collect water and snow samples. The cold and strong winds make the work of the researchers challenging. Under the force of wind and ocean currents, the ice floe repeatedly breaks apart, sometimes causing parts of the camp, along with tents and equipment, to drift away.

On February 24, 2020, the Polarstern reaches a position of 88°36′ North, only 156 kilometres away from the North Pole. It sets a record in the history of polar research. By the end of February, a faint light appears on the horizon. The sun slowly returns to the Arctic: first gently, then increasingly stronger, until the dazzling midnight sun is in the sky and will not set for half a year. Such an expedition can only succeed through united efforts. An international fleet of icebreakers, helicopters, and airplanes supports the team on this extreme route. Yet, life aboard the Polarstern has its own unique demands.