Famous polar explorers returning home are frightened by ice level in the Arctic

PolarsternPhoto: Rune Stoltz Bertinussen / NTB

The largest Arctic expedition in history is nearing its end. The researchers, who set out from Tromsø, are frightened by the ice level they have observed.

The crew of over 100 researchers and seafarers from several countries, including Norway, left the quay in Tromsø on September 20 last year. 

Since then, they endured long and dark winter months, temperatures of down to minus 39.5 degrees, and around 20 encounters with polar bears.

On Monday, the ship Polarstern is expected to dock in Bremerhaven, Germany. 

Due to the coronavirus, they will note be greeted with the usual fanfare for polar explorers.

Gloomy results

But many researchers are looking forward to the information they gathered. 

The researchers, who are from the Alfred Wegener Institute, are bringing gloomy results home.

This summer, the researchers observed dramatic effects of global warming on the polar ice, which is “the epicenter of climate change,” according to expedition leader Markus Rex.

“We could see large stretches of open water near the pole, surrounded by ice that was destroyed by holes created by extensive melting. The polar ice is disappearing at a dramatic rate,” Rex said.

The researchers’ observations are supported by American satellite images, which show that the polar ice in 2020 is at its second-lowest level in history.

389 days on expedition

The Polarstern expedition lasted 389 days and collected factual material about the atmosphere, the sea, sea ice, and the Arctic ecosystem to better understand climate change in the region and the world.

In the research work, four observation points were established in the sea ice around the ship. 

Water samples were collected from under the ice to study plankton and bacteria, which may contribute to a new understanding of the ecosystem in one of the world’s areas where the weather is extremely rough.

The expedition, which cost EUR 140 million or NOK 1.5 billion, is bringing more than 1,000 ice samples home to Germany.

The work is now entering the analysis phase, which will last for up to two years. 

The goal is to develop models that can estimate what heatwaves, heavy rainfall, and storms will look like in 20, 50, and 100 years.

Magical moment

“To develop those models, we need observations made on site,” Radiance Calmer, an American researcher who has participated in the expedition, noted.

She said that walking around the polar ice and seeing the changes with her own eyes was a magical moment.

“If you concentrate, you can feel the ice moving. It is important to take the time to observe,” she noted.

The crew is returning to a world characterized by the coronavirus, which caused them to be stuck at the North Pole for two months when the borders were closed, as the replacement crew could not be flown in as planned.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today


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