Filling in the Arctic MOSAiC

Polarstern at ice floe. MOSAiC project. Credit: Esther Horvath

The largest polar expedition in history is under way, and its research into global warming, ice floes, and how to survive for extended time in remote regions will be a useful by-product for shipping

n August 2019 areas of Siberia and Alaska, within the Arctic circle, were on fire. The Arctic wildfires, combined with the Amazon forest fires and elsewhere released black carbon – essentially, carbon dioxide (CO2) further polluted with particulate matter – which has 60% more global warming potential (GWP) than normal CO2; GWP measures how much heat a greenhouse gas (GHG) traps in the atmosphere over a specific time, typically 20, 100, or 500 years.

As the forest fires raged, storms ripped through the tropics; the June–November hurricane season produced six hurricanes, two of which – Dorian in August and Lorenzo in September – were category 5. Prior to the hurricanes, a severe cold wave swept through the midwestern US and eastern Canadian areas during January and February, effectively plunging temperatures to sub-zero degrees. Indeed, in the state of Minnesota, temperatures dropped as low as −49°C and wind chill was −54°C.

All these extraordinary events share a common link, they are all the symptoms of melting sea ice in the Arctic. Here, the amount of ice melting in the summer increases every year, while the amount refreezing in winter diminishes. Today, the amount of ice that is two years ‘old’ and above has decreased by two-thirds compared with the total that existed over the mid-1980s, and halved since the mid-2000s.

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