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article image'Mosaic Expedition' to study Arctic sea ice begins this year

By Karen Graham     Apr 7, 2019 in Science
In September 2019 the German research icebreaker Polarstern will depart from Tromsø, Norway and, once it has reached its destination, will spend the next year drifting through the Arctic Ocean, trapped in the ice.
This year's Mosaic Expedition could turn out to be the largest international research mission of all time. A total of 600 people from 17 countries, who will be supplied by other icebreakers and aircraft, will participate in the expedition - spearheaded by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).
The data gathered on the year-long research mission will hopefully better our understanding of the interactions between the ocean, ice, and atmosphere. Scientists know the Arctic has a tremendous influence on our climate, yet that influence is poorly understood.
Image of Arctic sea ice taken by  NASA Goddard researcher Linette Boisvert of the holes and openings...
Image of Arctic sea ice taken by NASA Goddard researcher Linette Boisvert of the holes and openings in the sea ice cover that expose the warm ocean below where more heat and moisture are put into the atmosphere, helping to warm the Arctic.
NASA - Operation IceBridge
Some pressing questions needing answers
For years, scientists have relied on satellite images, and ground data to assess the steadily receding summer ice cover over the Arctic Ocean. The ice is disappearing at a rate of 12 percent each decade since 1979. One big question that needs to be answered is how long do we have before it is all gone?
Another big question the expedition hopes to answer is why the formation of sea ice has lost its continental connection. This is particularly important because sea ice born in the shallow waters near the Arctic coast of Russia usually go on a windblown journey through the Arctic Ocean and out via the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard before melting.
The transport of sediments and nutrients trapped in the ice in the shallow zones of the Arctic margi...
The transport of sediments and nutrients trapped in the ice in the shallow zones of the Arctic marginal seas is also interrupted. The image shows sediment-rich sea ice in the Transpolar Drift. Two researchers were lowered by crane from the decks of the icebreaker Polarstern to the surface of the ice, so as to collect samples.
Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Rüdiger Stein)
Recent studies are showing less than 20 percent of that ice makes the journey. This is worrisome because ice born near the continental shelf traps many different kinds of particles - from sediments to algae to microplastic pollution to iron and other nutrients. When the newly formed ice melts in place, the distribution of nutrients is altered.
"How will this change in transport affect the biogeochemical cycle in the Arctic Ocean as well as the ecosystem?" said Thomas Krumpen, an ocean ice physicist with AWI. "This is all poorly understood."
Ice in the Arctic is unlike the ice cover in a lake. The Arctic Ocean is constantly circulating in a clockwise direction - from Siberia, across Greenland, Northern Canada and back again. In September, the Mosaic expedition will embed the German research icebreaker Polarstern into the drifting ice. There the year-long research mission will begin.
German research vessel POLARSTERN in Atka Bay  Antarctica during supply of Neumayer-Station
German research vessel POLARSTERN in Atka Bay, Antarctica during supply of Neumayer-Station
Hannes Grobe/Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
Implications of less Arctic ice
Understanding that "what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic," will help in understanding that a warmer polar region will have long-reaching impacts on everything from the weather in the Northern Hemisphere to permafrost melt, which releases the greenhouse gas, methane.
Not only weather patterns may change, but ocean currents could change. This will affect not only populations in the Northern Hemisphere but wildlife, as well. The changes in ocean current will also have far-reaching effects on regions in the Southern Hemisphere.
Average temperatures in the Arctic are three degrees Celsius higher than in the pre-industrial era  ...
Average temperatures in the Arctic are three degrees Celsius higher than in the pre-industrial era, snowfall is heavier, winds are stronger and the ice sheet has been shrinking for 30 years
Clement Sabourin, -/AFP/File
The report from Environment and Climate Change Canada, published last week show that some of the changes forecast to occur with global warming are already taking place.
"There is strong evidence of human-induced changes during the past century in key ocean-climate properties — such as temperature, sea ice, sea level, acidity, and dissolved oxygen — off Canada," warns the report.
The Arctic is generally considered to be an early warning system for climate change. Bob McDonald, CBC Canada's science commentator, and award-winning radio host likens the Arctic region's disappearing sea ice to a receding hairline for the planet. This is not a bad idea - especially because all of us can picture the Earth with a white "head of ice." Think about how the planet will look without its white cap.
More about Mosaic expedition, arcticnsea ice, international in scope, Climate change, Polarstern
 
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