Arctic - An icebreaker called Polarstern is revealing the Arctic’s secrets

Everything depends on how the ice behaves

There is “lockdown”. And then there is lockdown. Those who have spent the past weeks allowed out only to exercise and visit the shops might spare a thought for the passengers and crew of Polarstern (Pole Star), pictured above. Polarstern is an icebreaker belonging to the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, in Germany, and her ship’s company are in a different class of lockdown entirely. Their vessel is afloat in the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean, and communications are so minimal as to preclude phone calls, let alone Zoom. Only pictureless messages and emails are possible.

Polarstern is the location of mosaic, the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. She sailed from Tromso, in Norway, on September 20th 2019 and travelled to a point at latitude 85°N (see map). Here, mimicking the first high-Arctic voyage, made in 1893 by Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer, her captain fixed her into an ice floe that carried her along at about 7km/h, courtesy of an ocean current called the transpolar drift stream. Her closest approach to the pole itself, 156km, was on February 24th.

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