German research vessel embarks on year-long Arctic mission

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A German research icebreaker is to set sail from Norway on Friday to spend a year frozen and adrift in the Arctic in the name of climate research, amid last-minute preparations.

It’s like an anthill here. We have some last-minute problems, but we will sort it out. This evening we’ll be off,” expedition leader Markus Rex said from Tromso, Norway.

The RV Polarstern vessel would be the nerve centre of the MOSAiC mission, which stands for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate.

According to Rex, no Arctic expedition of this scope has been conducted and it’s key to ensure that nothing is missing at the start.

We can’t easily go to the next store and buy it,” Rex added.

In what is being billed as a scientific first, the Polarstern, which is packed with instruments for gathering data, would drift with the sea ice across the central Arctic until Sept. 2020.

That region is otherwise inaccessible during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months.

There has never been an expedition like the one now planned,” the MOSAiC mission said on its website.

The expedition noted that Norwegian researcher and explorer Fridtjof Nansen over 125 years ago conducted the first drift expedition with the wooden sailing ship Fram.

Over 70 scientific institutes from almost 20 different countries have worked to make the Polarstern’s journey happen.

Heroes

According to German Research Minister, Anja Karliczek, the around 100 scientists involved are “heroes of our time.

She stressed the importance of the research as a contribution to science on the critical issue of climate change.

The MOSAiC mission costs around 140 million Euros (155 million dollars), half of which is being paid by Germany.

Scientists would begin setting up equipment on a suitable ice floe about two weeks after launch.

Those stationed in the Arctic during the one-year mission would face long periods of darkness, temperatures as low as minus 45 degrees Celsius and potential polar bear encounters.

Expedition members have trained how to use survival equipment and how to handle encounters with polar bears as part of their preparations.