The biggest ever mission to explore the North Pole ended Monday after scientists returned from a year-long mission drifting in the frigid Arctic Ocean. And all they have is bad news…
After spending 389-days studying one of the world’s most extreme environments, scientists from over 20 countries say the Arctic Ocean is dying.
And the magnitude of damage is so intense that in the next few decades Arctic may start witnessing ice-free summers if the same trend continues.
The Polarstern research vessel floated through the freezing waters, collecting 1k ice-samples and over 150 terabytes of data, which will be analyzed in the next two years to make prediction models that could help save the zone.
Scientists say they have noted the damage first-hand, right out of their window. “We witnessed how the Arctic Ocean is dying,” mission leader Markus Rex told AFP. “We saw this process right outside our windows, or when we walked on the brittle ice.”
Elaborating how much he ice has melted, Rex said at some points during their voyage, the ship was able to sail through huge swatches of open waters, with no trace of ice in as far as the horizon.
He said, in the North Pole itself, they encountered ‘badly eroded’ melted, thin, and brittle ice.
The mission was undertaken by the German Alfred Wegener Institute and was called the MOSAiC or the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. The Polarstern ship returned to Bremerhaven port on Monday.
US satellite data from earlier this year found the North Pole has hit its second-lowest minimum ice-cover on record this year, after 2012, indicating devastating alterations in the crucial region.
The North Pole plays a vital role in the weather cycle of the Earth. The frigid region cools tropical winds from the South that has its impact and a muddle in this cycle would usher widespread change in the weather-balance.
Researchers from 20 nations including tens of institutes participated in the voyage. Observational sites were made in a 40-km radius around the ship on ice.
Researchers also collected bacteria and plankton from beneath the ice to assess how the marine ecosystem performs in these conditions.
With terabytes of data, thousands of samples across over a hundred parameters, the researchers are hoping this mission will enable a “breakthrough in understanding the Arctic and climate system”, Rex said.
“It will be a milestone for climate research, and its data will be valuable for generations,” Alfred Wegener Institute says.
The mega mission — called the biggest of its kind in the world — had to face numerous setbacks in the wake of the pandemic. AFP reports the mission was almost forfeited in spring with the crew stranded in the North Pole for two months.
Multinational scientists had to endure some of the world’s most extreme climates — temperatures as low as -39.5 degrees Celsius (-39.1 Fahrenheit), nights-after-nights of absolute darkness, and even 20 polar bears.
The mission was also a huge logistical challenge, feeding hundreds of crew all the while they do the vital task of saving the Arctic. 14,000 eggs, 2,000 litres of milk and 200kg of rutabaga were packed on the vessele for the first three months.