Arctic mission will trap scientists in ice

“We can do a lot with robotics and other things but in the end the visual, the manual observation and also the measurement, that’s still what we need,” Marcel Nicolaus, a German sea ice physicist who will be part of the international mission, said. “We need to go out, establish that ice camp.”

Dozens of scientists from the United States, China, Russia and other countries will be on board the German icebreaker, the Polarstern at any one time, rotating every two months as other icebreakers bring fresh supplies and a new batch of researchers..

Once the Polarstern is carried into the depth of the Arctic night, far off the coast of northern Greenland, the scientists will be on their own, too far away for emergency evacuations by air or sea.

“We’ll be isolated,” Rex said. “No other ice breaker can then reach us because the ice will be too thick.”

The expedition is receiving substantial funding from U.S. institutions such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA

Scientists now believe the cold cap that forms each year is key to regulating weather patterns and temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere. Anything that disrupts the Arctic will be felt further south, they say.

Rex cited the polar vortices that blasted cold air as far as Florida last winter and last month’s early heat wave in Europe as prime examples of the impact that a change in the Arctic weather system might entail.

“The dramatic warming of the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” he said, adding that understanding the processes at play in the far north is crucial if world leaders are to make the right decisions to curb climate change.

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