Samantha Perry

Storm Chasing in the Arctic: History’s Largest Polar Expedition

Samantha Perry

When I think of the North Pole, I think of the harshest winter weather times 10, a wasteland of snow and ice, the glare on the snow so bad I probably wouldn’t even be able to open my eyes. It’s a no-man’s-land.

But not for long. The North Pole might be one of the most important places to study weather patterns in the world and, thanks to a new expedition, a team of scientists will find out just how important.

Project MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) involves a yearlong expedition, during which scientists hope to understand more about global weather patterns and climate. Doing so will make maritime and offshore operations safer, as well as improve fishing and travel along northern sea routes. With a budget of about $65 million, the crew of scientists has a pretty daring plan designed to take advantage of the harsh landscape. The crew will start their expedition onboard the RV Polarstern in the summer, when the ice is thin and easy to maneuver through. By November, the RV Polarstern will be completely frozen in the ice and simply float along with the current.

MOSAiC takes much of its inspiration from an 1893 expedition by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who also allowed his vessel (the Fram) to naturally drift through the icy waters. Nansen and his crew set out in hopes of discovering the exact location of the North Pole. At one point, they realized the Fram would never make it close enough to the pole, and tried to continue the rest of the way on dog sleds, but were again unsuccessful. The Fram did make it through the ice caps, emerging intact through what is now known as the Fram Strait between Greenland and the Svalbard Islands.

The MOSAiC project is the first mission of its kind since Nansen’s expedition, hoping to cross the polar ice caps entirely by ship this time. The journey will be about 1,500 miles, with temperatures reaching as low as
–58° Fahrenheit and months of complete darkness. A total of 50 institutions and 14 countries will be working together during this project to study weather patterns as well as organisms like algae that seem to thrive in the “melt ponds” that collect on the ice in the spring.

Even with Nansen’s journey as a model, the RV Polarstern and its crew still have a lot to find out. Hopefully, in a year’s time, we’ll know a few more of the secrets of the Arctic.

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