After about ten months of drifting together through arctic waters, the ice floe of the research icebreaker “Polarstern” broke. It had reached the end of its life cycle on Thursday and had “broken loudly” into many smaller individual parts, the Bremerhaven Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) said on Friday. The “Polarstern” had been frozen to the ice floe in October of last year as part of the large-scale Mosaic research mission.
The scientists of the German research ship had set up a research station on the ice floe in order to observe it closely during their 1700-kilometer journey through the Arctic Ocean and to gain numerous other insights into climate and environmental processes in the Arctic. According to AWI, the end of the plaice was expected. Before the break, the crew of the “Polarstern” dismantled the research camp “in order”.
The fragments of the plaice are therefore only five kilometers away from the ice edge in Framstrasse between Greenland and Spitsbergen. In the coming days they will reach them, drive them out into the open North Atlantic and melt them there. This corresponds to the natural cycle. In the Arctic, the annual summer ice melt will soon peak before temperatures start to drop again.
The scientists of the Mosaic expedition commented the end of “their” ice floe in almost sentimental words. “In the many months, the plaice has become a home for us, which we will always remember,” said expedition leader Markus Rex from AWI. “Now she starts her last way and becomes water again.” It was now time to “say goodbye”.
The ice floes are continually reforming off the Siberian coast and are slowly drifting through the polar waters over the North Pole to dissolve again. Research has shown that the floe of the “Polarstern” was formed more than a year and a half ago in December 2018 off the New Siberian Islands. After an extensive search, the crew of the Mosaic expedition had chosen it as the ideal location to set up a research camp.
According to the AWI, the “Polarstern” will remain near the ice edge in Framstrasse for a few days and then make its way north towards the North Pole, where it will begin the freezing phase on the last section of the one-year Mosaic expedition Will accompany the end of the arctic summer. This is the “last missing piece of the puzzle in the annual cycle of the Arctic sea ice,” said expedition leader Rex.
Mosaic is intended to provide new insights into the complex environmental processes in the region in unprecedented depth of detail. It is considered to be the most complex and largest research project ever launched in the Arctic. Scientists from numerous countries are involved, the teams at “Polarstern” have been exchanged several times. The results should help, for example, to improve climate models.
Before the research icebreaker pushes north again, the crew changes one last time. The new crew will arrive at “Polarstern” with a Russian research icebreaker in a few days. This also brings supplies.