Alternative resupply plan for RV Polarstern now in place

Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research

Thanks to the support of additional German research vessels, the MOSAiC expedition will continue, despite the coronavirus pandemic. The new team will start in May.

Despite the current challenges, the MOSAiC expedition will continue. After many national borders were closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, one team transfer had to be postponed. But thanks to new alternative plans supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German Research Foundation and the operators of the German research fleet as well as the dedicated work of the expedition team currently on board, MOSAiC will soon enter its next phase. An interim review of the project shows: the data to be gathered over the next several months will be indispensable for the scientific community.

After successfully completing the first half of its more-than-a-year-long drift through the Arctic Ocean, the international expedition MOSAiC suddenly faced unforeseen challenges, posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The massive restrictions on global travel hindered the third team exchange, which had been planned as an aerial transfer in early April, using the Spitsbergen archipelago (which Norwegian authorities have since placed off limits due to the pandemic) as a base of operations. Since the current situation also means the international icebreakers that were originally meant to resupply the expedition are also prohibited from making any staff transfers, in the span of just a few weeks the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), the MOSAiC Coordination Office and the funding bodies and operators of the German Research Fleet Coordination Centre at Hamburg University developed a completely new alternative plan:

The upcoming transfer will be completed out with the aid of the German research vessels RV Sonne and RV Maria S. Merian. As a result of the pandemic-related measures, both ships have just returned to Germany. Polarstern will meet the two vessels in calm waters off Svalbard, in order to carry out a complete personnel transfer (ca. 100 people), and an exchange of cargo and provisions. Once the process is complete, Polarstern and her new team will return to the ice and continue their expedition in the Arctic Ocean.

Expedition Leader Prof Markus Rex from the AWI: “With this alternative plan, the AWI’s Logistics Team, together with our international partners, achieved a true masterstroke in the face of the enormous challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis. With a host of alternative plans at the ready, the expedition was prepared for virtually every scenario imaginable. Yet the pandemic forced us to devise a complex alternative scenario for wholly new, unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances. It was only the team’s tremendous commitment and flexibility that allowed us to conduct climate research in the Arctic ice two months longer than planned, despite the current conditions. As a result, in spite of the extremely adverse conditions, the continuation of the expedition has been secured.”

The new staff exchange plan will be accompanied by extensive safety concepts developed in close collaboration with the respective health authorities. From early May, the participants in the next leg of the expedition living in Germany will enter a monitored quarantine phase, during which they will be regularly tested for the coronavirus. Due to the delayed exchange, there will only be a total of four, not five, transfers in the course of the expedition, but this will have no effect on its total duration: the planned end date is still 12 October 2020.

Prof Torsten Kanzow from the AWI, the current chief scientist on board Polarstern, had the following to report: “Many of our people have families, and are of course doing everything they can to stay in close contact with their loved ones back home via satellite phone and email. As the expedition leader, I also note the hardships and concerns of the people on board, and pass them on to the Coordination Office and the AWI. This has helped us regain a bit of certainty in our planning efforts.” In addition, on 22 April seven participants, whose personal circumstances made it impossible to stay longer, were flown out with a Twin Otter. According to Kanzow, he’s happy to see that, despite the current challenges and concerns, the participants have continued to carry out their research duties in the ice with great enthusiasm – even though, since 31 March, they have had to do so in the never-ending sunlight of the Polar Day.

Over the past months, Polarstern has rapidly advanced along her projected drift corridor; as a result, she is already between the North Pole and Fram Strait, i.e., fairly far to the south. For the upcoming logistical operation, this position is advantageous. Some instruments on the MOSAiC floe will continue recording autonomously until Polarstern returns, while others will be dismantled.

Depending on how the drift progresses, the Ice Camp may be relocated closer to the North Pole. The possibility of tearing down and relocating the camp was always part of the planning scenarios, in the event that the ship drifted faster than anticipated. This would have only minimal effects on the expedition timeline. As Markus Rex explains, “If we drift too far south, we will set up the Ice Camp again farther north, and continue our observations in a region where the Central Arctic is still covered with ice in the summer. We’re thrilled with the tremendous amount of data we’ve been able to gather over the past seven months. Despite the current adversities, we hope to continue the expedition for the remainder of the year-long cycle, and draw it to a close in October as planned.”

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Further information: MOSAiC – Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate

In the context of the MOSAiC expedition, experts from 20 countries will research the Arctic for an entire year. To make this possible, from autumn 2019 to autumn 2020 the German research icebreaker Polarstern will drift through the Arctic Ocean, trapped in the ice. MOSAiC is being coordinated by the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). To ensure that this unparalleled project is a success and yields as much valuable data as possible, more than 80 institutes have pooled their resources in a research consortium. The expedition budget is ca. 140 million euros.

For news straight from the Arctic, check out the MOSAiC channels on Twitter (@MOSAiCArctic) and Instagram (@mosaic_expedition) using the hashtags #MOSAiCexpedition, #Arctic and #icedrift.

For further information on the expedition, please visit: http://www.mosaic-expedition.org

In addition, you can use the MOSAiC Web App to track Polarstern’s drift route and follow developments on site, live: http://www.follow.mosaic-expedition.org

The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and mid-latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 19 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

From EurekAlert!

Addendum, the Expedition can be followed here

HT/ Martin C

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34 thoughts on “Alternative resupply plan for RV Polarstern now in place

  1. Glad it worked out for you, and I hope the transfer (ca. 100 people) x 3 and the pocked money of 140 million euros is worth more than the pure PR and occupational therapy.

  2. Homeless people everywhere are giving the thumbs-up sign from their government issue porta-potties after hearing this fantastic news.

  3. Excuse me for being distracted, could you please repeat which of the transport means, if any, used in this polar junket is powered by renewable green electricity?

    The forklifts used to haul palettes in the cargo holds ? Ah, sorry, my bad.

  4. I keep wondering about the status of our astronaut exchanges (not sure when the next one is scheduled to occur). — And resupply missions. It wouldn’t be good if our astronauts were stranded in orbit.

      • Interesting story — never heard it before. My first thought was that maybe it was because he was a “Cosmonaut 3rd Class”. (Then I read the rest of the article).

      • Watch the interview taped in the ’90s of Jim Lovell (C-Span). He spent 15 days crammed into a tiny Gemini capsule next to Frank Boreman. Almost unimaginable. Boreman lasted 9 days before he finally submitted to his first bowel movement! “Well, Jim, I think this is it.” “Geeze, Frank, you only need to hold out six more days.”

  5. Have I missed something ?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear-powered_icebreaker
    See the list of 11 Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers.

    Clearly Russia is not listening to the CO2, warm fuzzy feeling crowd.

    Question is, would one of these solve diesel-powered Polarstern’s problems?`

    Or, since Germany shuts down the worlds best reactors, is nuclear-icebreaker the new “Unwort”?

    Imagine ZDF headlines :

    “…our best Arctic research ship resupplied by nuclear-powered Russian icebreaker”.

    There’s enough there to feed MSM fat for 2 weeks!

  6. bonbon April 26, 2020 at 7:13 am
    Question is, would one of these solve diesel-powered Polarstern’s problems?`

    What problem are you referring to? Also how would nuclear power solve it?
    As far as I can tell their problem is that the mission will end early due to the drift being higher than expected, in which case they’ll sail back close to the N Pole and restart.

      • I was thinking the same thing. The ice is six feet thick and crisscrossed by pressure ridges that are far thicker. The Polarstern is not as massive as Russian icebreakers, and is designed to plow through ice around five feet thick at five knots. I’m curious how it will handle thicker ice.

        The Russian icebreaker that resupplied it, the Kapitan Dranitsyn, used far more fuel than expected, bullying its way north through the sea-ice, and had to be refueled by another Russian icebreaker, the Admiral Maharov, to get out of the ice. Getting the Polarstern to the open water is no stroll in the park, nor is getting back up towards the Pole. They are not dealing with the broken-up sea-ice of September, but sea-ice at its seasonal thickest.

        I get the feeling they are downplaying their difficulties. They are well aware of the media’s tendency to sensationalize problems, and maybe they are also aware they will be the butt of a lot of rude and unsympathetic jokes from the skeptic community if they so much as hint the ice is a problem.

        They do a fair amount of virtue signaling, and waste (IMHO) too much time and money studying trace gasses. But they are also learning a lot, and I think some had their preconceptions crumbled when they witnessed how active the ice was, cracking and exposing open water even at thirty below, and then crashing together and forming pressure ridges.

        One very cool thing they had was an underwater camera which caught sight of a seal hunting arctic cod during the coldest and darkest days of the winter. I am old enough to remember when Alarmists described the Central Arctic as “a sterile desert”, and predicted polar bears and seals would find no food if sea-ice melted too far from the shores. Now it is apparent enough algae and other stuff clings to the underside of the sea-ice to support an entire, thriving ecosystem.

        Another thing which was not obvious using satellites, but quite obvious if you used your lying eyes (via the cameras that once floated around the Pol)e, was that a thin layer of cold air is just above the ice. Back in the day, the camera-buoys would show the melt-water pools freezing over even as the satellite stated temperatures were above freezing. This expedition has “discovered” what we already knew; the air at the surface can be considerably colder than the air only ten meters up.

        There is nothing like having reporters on-the-scene. I’m sure the younger scientists genuflect and curtsy in the politically-correct manner to their professors, but later, over a beer, talk of the Truth eye to eye among themselves.

        • Am I correct in saying that it is impossible to refuel a nuclear vessel at sea? I have checked various sources and all say refuelling has to be carried out on land.

  7. Do we have a brief brief on the ‘research’ objectives?
    An October finish will be about three weeks after the Arctic ice minimum for 2020 which will be more than four million square km as usual. I will give them that for free

  8. “If we drift too far south, we will set up the Ice Camp again farther north, and continue our observations in a region where the Central Arctic is still covered with ice in the summer. ”

    [sar/] I thought Gore told us the Arctic would be ice free in mid summer by now…[/sar]

  9. Wait a minute,is this not the expedition that is so befouling the environment around itself that their pollution measurements are junk?
    How dare they!Good little environmentalists would have taken their filthy fossil fuel belching barge and gone home.
    I look forward to their astounding conclusions,where they “discover” that soot from bunker fuel is everywhere and man has polluted the pristine Arctic like never before…

    I wonder if they have enough peanut butter and bananas on board?

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