The expedition

An entire year trapped in the ice

127 years ago, the Norwegian researcher and explorer Fridtjof Nansen set sail on the first ever drift expedition with his wooden sailing ship Fram. But there has never been an expedition like the one now planned: for the first time, the MOSAiC project takes a modern research icebreaker laden with scientific instruments close to the North Pole in winter.

The name MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) mirrors the complexity and diversity of this expedition.

MOSAiC is the first year-round expedition into the central Arctic exploring the Arctic climate system. The project with a total budget exceeding 140 Million € has been designed by an international consortium of leading polar research institutions, led by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).

Figure 1: Not only the science behind MOSAiC is a huge endeavour that needs the expertise of multiple nations and scientific disciplines, but also the logistics face unparalleled challenges.

The backbone of MOSAiC is the year-round operation of RV Polarstern, drifting with the sea ice across the central Arctic during the years 2019 to 2020. During the set-up phase, RV Polarstern entered the Siberian sector of the Arctic in the thin sea ice conditions of late summer.

A distributed regional network of observational sites has been set up on the sea ice in an area of up to ~40 km distance from RV Polarstern. The ship and the surrounding network are now drifting with the natural ice drift across the polar cap towards the Atlantic, while the sea ice thickens during winter (red dotted line in Figure 1).

Large scale research facilities addressing key aspects of the coupled Arctic climate system have been set up on board of RV Polarstern and on the sea ice next to it, in the so-called ice camp.

The distributed regional network further around the central observatory is comprised of autonomous and remotely-operated sensors, characterizing the heterogeneity of key processes in an area representing a typical grid box of modern climate models and providing invaluable data for the development of parametrizations for sub-grid-scale processes in climate models.

Understanding the consequences of Arctic climate change

  • MOSAiC will contribute to a quantum leap in our understanding of the coupled Arctic climate system and its representation in global climate models.
  • The focus of MOSAiC lies on direct in-situ observations of the climate processes that couple the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, biogeochemistry, and ecosystem.

The German research aircrafts Polar 5 and Polar 6 will be operated to complement the measurements at the central MOSAiC site. A landing strip will be built especially for these research planes and for resupply flights in spring 2020.

Research and supply cruises by icebreakers from MOSAiC partners will provide support for the AWI research vessel Polarstern. They will further extend the geographical coverage of the observations and will link the measurements to the larger scales of the Arctic climate system and explore global feedbacks.

In addition, helicopters will be employed. Fuel depots for long-range helicopters have been set up on Bolshevik Island to broaden the spectrum of response options to potential emergency situations during the expedition.

Learn more about the largest Arctic research expedition ever
See MOSAiC in numbers
Read more about the research vessel Polarstern that serves as central observatory during the expedition
See Polarstern

Learn more about the Polarstern's drift through the Arctic - and about the precursor of MOSAiC: Fridtjof Nansen's famous Fram expedition
See drift
Read more about the complex structure of the Ice Camp, which surrounds the central observatory Polarstern
See Ice Camp

Learn more about the complex logistics that make MOSAiC possible
See logistics
Find out more about the widespread Distributed Network, which will drift with Polarstern at a distance
See Distributed Network