Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Researchers with the MOSAiC expedition have found an ice floe to anchor the German research icebreaker Polarstern to for a year-long.
Late last month, a team of researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute's Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research set sail from Norway and entered the Laptev Sea, a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean. Their journey into the center of the Arctic was aided by the icebreaker Akademik Fedorov, operated by Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.
After several days of searching for a suitable ice floe, using both helicopter surveys and satellite images, scientists convened and agreed to attach a floe located at 85 degrees north and 137 degrees east. The floe measures approximately 1.5 by 2 miles.
Having settled on a suitable floe, Plastern will allow itself to become frozen to the ice. For the next year, the research vessel and its research team will drift alongside the ice, conducting a variety of experiments and scientific measurements to illuminate the relationship between ice and climate in the Arctic.
"After a brief but intensive search, we've found our home for the months to come. The ice floe is characterized by an unusually stable area, which we are confident can serve as a good basis and point of departure for establishing a complex research camp," MOSAiC expedition leader Markus Rex said in a press release. "Other parts of the floe are typical of the new Arctic, which is home to thinner, less stable ice. And precisely this combination makes it very well suited to our scientific projects."
Scientists had been eyeing this particular floe prior to the start of the expedition. Unlike other floes in the examined satellite images, which were mostly dark, the selected floe featured a bright region in its northern section -- a region of thicker, more stable ice.
Researchers will construct their camp high above the region of thick ice. Most of the rest of the floe is characterized by refrozen meltwater pools and thin, porous and less stable ice.
Though the floe was favored, the research team couldn't rely solely on satellite images. Over the last few days, scientists used an electromagnetic sensor, which they dragged behind a Skidoo, to map the ice thickness. Researchers also analyzed ice core samples to determine the ice's underlying structure.
Picking the right floe was hard work, but the challenge of setting up camp will be greater. For the next few months, the sun will fail to rise above the horizon. For several more days, a faint glow will light the sky at noon, but soon, the researchers will conduct their work in total darkness. Expected rough weather will only complicate the researchers' work.
"We'll have to wait and see if [the floe is] also stable enough to withstand the autumnal storms that are now brewing," Rex said. "But we're prepared for all scenarios."
During their time drifting through the Arctic, scientists will closely monitor and study interactions between the air, ocean and ice.
Understanding the dynamics of the Arctic system is essential to more accurately modeling the effects of climate change on Earth's climate.
"The Arctic is the region of the planet that heats up the fastest and most dramatically. But it is also the region of the planet in which our climate models have the greatest uncertainties," Rex said in a recent interview with German news site RBB24. "We have never seen the main climate processes taking place in the Arctic. And all climate models 'guess' a bit different... But this is a condition that is unacceptable because we need robust Arctic climate forecasts to better predict our weather and climate in the future."
Over the next several months, different teams of researchers will swap in and out of the expedition, ferried by aircraft and other icebreakers. The massive expedition will be one-of-a-kind, offering scientists a rare look at the North Pole during the heart of the winter months.
That's so far north that we'll hardly see any polar lights, and in winter the ice is even too thick for an icebreaker - which makes drifting the only way to reach the Central Arctic then.
"The MOSAiC expedition will take us to areas that are beyond anything we've ever seen before, because virtually no-one has ever visited them in winter," Rex said in another interview. "We'll be north of the 80th parallel the entire time, and for much of it, we'll even be in the direct vicinity of the North Pole, above the 87th parallel. That's so far north that we'll hardly see any polar lights, and in winter the ice is even too thick for an icebreaker -- which makes drifting the only way to reach the Central Arctic then."