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An Arctic year spent investigating the climate crisis

An Arctic year spent investigating the climate crisis

A year in the Arctic investigating the climate crisis

It’s hard to answer that because we’re still synthesising the information. I don’t draw any conclusions. We spent a year there and the ice was fracturing all around us, more than I expected. The sea ice has a thin, fragile layer that breaks down much quicker than in the past.

We all know that the Earth is warming up and that’s leading to less ice, right? Thicker ice is more likely to break down. Similar to how we feel when we look at ice in glasses, smaller chunks of the ice melt quicker. These are the same feedbacks we were experiencing at the Arctic’s central Arctic. The ice breaking and the energy transfer work together to accelerate the sea ice’s decline.

How will your findings used?

Climate models show us what will happen in the future if we keep following a certain emission pathway or if we switch to a different pathway. These models are extremely important. Unfortunately these models struggle in the Arctic because we just haven’t had as many observations there. The Arctic is experiencing a rapid climate change that is faster than anywhere else on the planet. The global average temperature is rising by three times faster than the Arctic average. If we think that we’re going to represent the rest of the global system, we certainly have to get the Arctic correct because it’s leading the way and it has all these feedbacks on the rest of the global system that we’re trying to understand.

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What was a typical day onboard the Polarstern like?

Every day was unusual, I would say. We would have a lot more meetings. As scientists, it is important to understand each other’s perspectives so we can adjust our strategies and coordinate our measurements. I’m an atmospheric scientist but I’m really interested in what the sea ice scientist or the biologists are seeing because we’re trying to put these pieces together. In the morning, I would typically go out on ice. Then again in the afternoon. We would check equipment, collect samples, and then look at the snow. Towards the end of the day we’d squeeze in a little time to look at the data that’s coming in, try to get a little sleep and then do it all again.

Is establishing a routine almost essential when it’s difficult to keep track of time due to the endless days and nights?

It’s all based on meal times, really. You definitely don’t want to miss a meal because you’re burning a lot of calories out there in the cold. So that’s really the clock – meal times.

What’s on the menu?

It’s a German icebreaker so there were potatoes with every meal in some form. There was a lot of meat. I don’t eat meat so there were many salads each day. As you can see, there was some repetition.

Polar night was observed by the German research vessel Polarstern in Central Arctic Ocean.
PHOTO: ALFRED-WEGENER-INSTITUT

Do you feel alone in the most isolated part of the world? Or do you feel connected with others?

It’s this interesting connection of isolation and not. I live in the mountains of Colorado. I like it, it’s quiet, there’s a lot of space. We are now on the ship, many people packed in, sharing our rooms, and eating every meal together. It was strange that I felt a little cramped in our remote outpost on far-flung reaches of the Earth. But outside the ship, of course, it’s extremely spacious. I was able, thanks to my luck, to travel to remote areas that were only accessible by helicopter. And boy, it’s dark and it’s quiet. It’s a truly stunning isolation.

Can you describe that feeling?

It all depends on the circumstances at the time. If it’s still then it’s very silent. You can make some very interesting sounds if there are winds. Snow crystals can be heard moving along the surface. And we had a lot of ice dynamics – cracks in the ice opening up and ice coming back together. Extraordinary sounds. The ice sometimes shouts out. There are creaks, creaks, and groans. It truly does bring out this personality.

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See Also
Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, attends a news conference with members of the GOP Doctors Caucus after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

PHOTO: ALFRED-WEGENER-INSTITUT

How did Christmas celebrate you?

Christmas Day, I was on an entirely different icebreaker. We had rotations so a Russian vessel came and brought the people. We were still under the sea ice when Christmas arrived. We did have a Christmas celebration. Everybody put on their nice clothes – some nicer than others – some nice food and some nice beverages. You can see that there was some singing, and some people playing music. It was quite a pleasant atmosphere.

Does it feel different celebrating Christmas near Santa’s HQ?

We didn’t see Santa this time. It’s certainly interesting. For me, it’s a tradition to celebrate holidays with my family. And that MOSAiC Year, it was a different definition but still family.

The Polarstern was spent
10 months frozen
Solid in the pack ice
Drifting 3400km in
a zigzag pattern
PHOTO: ALFRED-WEGENER-INSTITUT

Are you optimistic looking into 2022?

I want the global community and those who make decisions to support science to value it. We go to great lengths in order to obtain observations that will help us develop our methods, our analyses, and our models to provide the most accurate information. And I would hope that that’s given due respect, that people trust the information then make solid decisions based on that. That’s the most I can ask as a scientist. The decision about what we actually do, it’s a big one. It’s complicated – well over my head as a climate scientist. But as long as they take this information into account and they believe it, I think that’s a win for us. That’s what I believe in. I feel more and more theThe science is gaining trust around the worldScientists trust each other and that trust is being provided. I think that’s really important. 

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