20. September 2019 | Press releases:

TU Braunschweig Participates in Arctic Research Expedition MOSAiC Will be the Largest Expedition of all Time in the Arctic sea ice

After a decade of preparations, it’s finally time: this evening at 8:30 p.m. the German icebreaker Polarstern will depart from the Norwegian port of Tromsø. Escorted by the Russian icebreaker Akademik Fedorov, she will set sail for the Central Arctic. On board researchers will investigate a region that is virtually inaccessible in winter, and which is crucial for the global climate. They will gather urgently needed data on the interactions between the atmosphere, ocean and sea ice, as well as on the ecosystem. The Technische Universität Braunschweig is participating and will carry out meteorological measurements and air sampling.Thanks to the collaboration between international experts, the one-year-long ice drift past the North Pole will take climate research to a completely new level.

Hardly any region has warmed as much as the Arctic over recent decades. At the same time, we lack year-round observations from the ice-covered Arctic Ocean. For the first time, the MOSAiC expedition will drift in the ice with a modern research icebreaker for an entire year, allowing scientists to investigate the Arctic winter in the vicinity of the North Pole. The climate processes there are a missing piece of the puzzle that is needed in order to make better prognoses regarding global climate change. It’s thought that the extreme warming in the Arctic has an enormous impact on the middle latitudes.

The MOSAiC expedition, led by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) entails unprecedented challenges. An international fleet of 4 icebreakers, helicopters and aircraft will supply the team on its epic voyage. A total of 600 international participants, half of which are researchers, will be part of the mission.

TU Braunschweig Investigates Interactions Between Sea Ice, Atmosphere and Clouds

The Institute for Flight Guidance (IFF) of TU Braunschweig is also involved in the Arctic expedition and will carry out meteorological measurements with the Helipod helicopter towing probe and air sampling with the ALICE quadrocopter for methane isotope analysis. “The Institute of Flight Guidance has the unique opportunity to participate in this extraordinary expedition with the Helipod and to collect valuable data sets in the Arctic. We are pleased that the project is actively supported by the German Research Foundation, the EU, the Ecki Wohlgehagen Foundation and the Richard Borek Foundation as well as our cooperation partners”, says Professor Peter Hecker, Head of the IFF.

For use in the Arctic, the devices, including measurement technology, must be particularly robust and well shielded against the cold. “In addition to the originally planned measuring instruments, we are integrating additional sensors on the Helipod to document the ice surface, measure aerosols and estimate the properties of clouds at the same time as taking atmospheric measurements,” explains Dr. Astrid Lampert of the IFF. “With the extended data set we can investigate interactions between sea ice, atmosphere and clouds.

The scientist Dr. Falk Pätzold, a specialist in meteorological metrology at the IFF, is part of the international research team and is expected to travel to the Arctic and participate in the expedition at the end of January 2020. “This type of expedition cannot be planned down to the last detail. We are preparing ourselves and the technology as well as possible, but we have to react flexibly to the conditions on site,” says Pätzold. As early as 2017, he was on a five-week research trip with Polarstern into the ice east of Greenland to test the quadrocopter ALICE and take measurements and aerial samples. In preparation for the MOSAIC expedition, he had to complete a polar bear safety course and a helicopter underwater escape training.

The Arctic is the Epicentre of Global Warming

This evening at 8:30 p.m. local time, a delegation  of scientists and politicians, including the Federal Minister for Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, will see RV Polarstern off from Tromsø, followed by the Akademik Fedorov, which sets sail at 9:00 p.m.

Antje Boetius, Director, Alfred Wegener Institute: “Since 2011 our scientists have been working to make the vision of a major mission in the North-Pole region a reality. During the expedition, Polarstern will be become frozen in the ice, and will provide safe accommodation while research is undertaken outside on the sea ice under extreme conditions . We have a network of the best international Arctic researchers from various disciplines to get the mission off the ground. Back in 2011, we couldn’t have imagined imagine how thin the sea ice and how warm the winters would become. It’s high time for the expedition to get underway and to gather data on and images of a region that is changing faster than we can study it.”

Markus Rex, Head of MOSAiC, Alfred Wegener Institute: “This mission is ground breaking. Never before has there been such a complex Arctic expedition.  For the first time we will be able to measure the climate processes in the Central Arctic in winter. And so for the first time we will be able to understand this region and correctly represent it in climate models. The Arctic is the epicentre of global warming and has already undergone dramatic changes. And it is the weather kitchen for our weather in Europe. Extreme weather conditions like outbreaks of cold Arctic air here in winter, or heat waves in summer are linked to the changes in the Arctic. At the same time, the uncertainties in our climate models are nowhere bigger than in the Arctic. There aren’t any reliable prognoses of how the Arctic climate will develop further or what that will mean for our weather. Our mission is to change that.”

The two icebreakers will remain in visual contact as they head across the Barents and Kara Seas on course for the Central Arctic. After roughly two weeks they are expected to reach the target region at 130 degrees east and 85 degrees north. The first of a total of six teams will then search for a suitable ice floe to set up the complex research camp on. But the researchers will be working against the clock, since just a few days after their arrival the sun will cease to rise above the horizon. The critical sea ice in the target region poses a further challenge. This year, the sea-ice extent there has decreased significantly. Satellite images also show barely any old sea ice, and instead mainly thin, first-year ice.

The expedition participants will connect the research camp with a network of measuring stations set up over a radius of 50 kilometres by researchers using the escort icebreaker Akademik Fedorov. As soon as the so-called distributed network has been completed, the two icebreakers will come together for a final exchange of crew and supplies before the Akademik Fedorov returns to Tromsø, where she is due to arrive on 30 October. The researchers on board Polarstern will remain there until mid-December, when they will be replaced by the second team. The expedition will be resupplied, and there will be further team changes over the coming year. There is also an accompanying flight campaign planned for spring 2020, for which a landing strip will be carved out of the sea ice. In late summer 2020, between Greenland and Svalbard, the Polarstern will free herself from the ice and head back to her homeport of Bremerhaven, Germany, where she is expected to arrive in mid-October 2020.

300 Researchers From 17 Countries

The budget for the expedition is roughly 140 million euros. During the course of the year, circa 300 researchers from 17 countries will be on board, from Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. They will be supported on land by experts from Austria and South Korea. The questions that the researchers will be investigating during the expedition are closely linked. Together they will study the entire climate system in the CentralArctic for the first time. They will gather data on five subareas: atmosphere, sea ice, ocean, ecosystems and biogeochemsitry, in order to gain insights into the interactions that shape the Arctic climate and life in the Arctic Ocean.

Research Focuses

Complex cloud processes and snow fall, sun and heat radiation, eddies and small vortices, air temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius and a comparatively warm ocean below, with only a thin layer of cracked ice separating it from the atmosphere. MOSAiC will investigate how these and many other factors together affect the heat balance and the Arctic climate.

Sea Ice
The Arctic sea ice is changing. The MOSAiC expedition will monitor the lifecycle of the ice for an entire year – how it forms, alters, drifts and cracks, how it thaws, and how, as it does so, it determines the energy flow between the air and the water.

The Arctic Ocean is not an isolated body of water. MOSAiC will investigate which currents and vortices in the ocean transport heat to the Arctic and carry it to the surface there; the relationship between the ocean, atmosphere and ice; and how they interact during the course of an entire year.

How do Arctic life forms survive extreme cold, solid ice cover and months of darkness during the polar night, and what sort of metabolisms do they have? The MOSAiC expedition will explore this mystery of life, which continues under what appear to be extremely adverse conditions, throughout a complete annual cycle.

What’s in the Arctic Ocean doesn’t stay in the Arctic Ocean: The ocean, ice and atmosphere are constantly exchanging gases, leading to, among other things, changes in cloud characteristics. During a complete annual cycle, MOSAiC will monitor these gases and other important chemical compounds in the water, ice and air.