MOSAiC, the largest polar expedition ever
RUG part of research in ‘Europe’s weather kitchen’
Scientists from the RUG (as well as Wageningen University & Research) are participating in this, the largest polar expedition of all time, which is called MOSAiC. In total, six hundred people are participating in the expedition. Half of them are scientists.
The North Pole is seen as the ‘weather kitchen’ for the weather in North America, Europe, and Asia. Extreme weather conditions, such as extra cold winters of heat waves during the summer, are directly linked to changes in the Arctic.
At the same time, climate model uncertainties are at their biggest in that area, says expedition leader Markus Rex. ‘We have no reliable prognoses on how the Arctic climate is going to develop or what this will mean for our weather. It’s our mission to change that.’
The North Pole has been warming up very quickly over the past few decades. The climate processes in this area could be a piece of the puzzle needed to create better prognoses about world-wide climate change.
After a decade of preparations, the German icebreaker Polarstern left the Norse harbour of Tromsø on Friday evening. The ship will serve as the basis for a year-long study in a region that’s practically inaccessible during the winter. Because of this, the ship will be stuck in the ice for most of the time there.
The scientists will collect information that’s crucial to the interaction between the atmosphere, the ocean, and the sea ice, and about the ecosystem. Thanks to the collaboration between international experts, it’s hoped this study into the drift of ice past the North Pole will elevate climate research ‘to a whole new level’.
In January, RUG scientists Jacqueline Stefels and Maria van Leeuwe will spend several months on board the Polarstern. Their research focuses on biogeochemistry; they’ll study the role of one of the smallest micro-organisms on earth in one of climate change’s biggest questions: algae.
Algae in the sea ice absorb CO2, thereby slightly slowing down the warming of the earth. They also produce a gas called dimethyl sulfide. But the warming of the sea water and the melting of the sea ice caused by climate change are hindering these two processes.
Stefels: ‘Our research focuses mainly on the amplifying effect of the disappearing sea ice on climate change. We expect this project to lead to unique insights into the future development of sea ice and how the climate will respond to this.
Jacqueline Stefels will be on board the ship from February until April. ‘I hope to be there for the seasonal change from winter to spring, which would be exciting’, says Stefels. ‘Hopefully our instruments will be able to pick up the start of biological activity.’ Maria van Leeuwe will join the expedition six months later and will be researching the sea ice during the change from summer into autumn.