We have finally reached the North Pole! Undeletable date: August 19, 2020, 12:45 p.m. On that day, the German icebreaker Polarstern , the protagonist of the international scientific mission MOSAIC, has reached 90 degrees north latitude, the tip of the sphere of our beloved round planet. Upon arrival, the low temperatures (around zero degrees; with strong winds, it drops to -10ºC), the thick fog and the cloudy sky offer an epic atmosphere. Two days later, on August 21, we have reached our destination: a point with a thick ice pack where we have stopped the boat and we have been trapped in the ice until October!
The fifth and last relay of the MOSAIC expedition, of which I am a part, is focused on studying the phase of freezing and ice formation, which is the last piece of the puzzle in the observation of Arctic ice through its annual cycle. This freezing stage will begin in a matter of weeks. Now the scientific work begins, which I will develop as a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC), of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), the only Spanish research organization participating in the mission. I work on the SIMPATICO project, which studies the primary transport of aerosols in the Arctic atmosphere, and which is funded by the State Research Agency. This week we started to deploy the measuring instruments on the ice and in the water.
What is most difficult to adapt to is excess light. Here we have 24 hours of sunshine a day; the noon sun equals the midnight sun. So you never know what time of day it is. It is often hard to sleep and your body takes its toll; after a few days you have to sleep more to be able to rest. In addition, the sky is always foggy and with many clouds. This is because the temperature, the water in the air, and the ice mean that there are always many clouds, so there are foggy days when you can't even see the tip of the boat.
Here climate change makes its effects evident. Before reaching this site, the Polarstern , of the German research center Alfred Wegener Institut, had to leave the place where it was fixed on 13 August. The icebreaker was stranded for 300 days on an ice pack in the Fram Strait, between Greenland and the Svalvard Islands. But by the end of July it had completely melted and it was dangerous to walk on it.
In the not-too-distant past, this region used to be covered with thick, thick ice. These days, even around latitude 87 north the ice is thin. This year 2020, unfortunately, the ice is melting even more than in previous years. So we had to start breaking the ice heading north, across the Pole, to find a thick ice pack so we could make measurements.
And on the 21st, located in the center of the transpolar drift, we succeeded. In the middle of the Arctic summer, with the summer thaw, near the North Pole we have a thickness of between 50 centimeters and three meters; Most of the ice we find is one or a half meter thick.
Upon reaching the Pole, my thoughts went with the explorers of the last century who managed to get here and studied the ice and its properties. The first to cross the North Pole, consistently and scientifically verified, was the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and his American sponsor, Lincoln Ellsworth, who arrived here on May 12, 1926 with the airship Norge, invented and driven by the Italian Umberto Nobile.
Yesterday, August 23, was my birthday and it was nice to spend it in this remote and desolate panorama, embarked on another expedition for history. The Polarstern is the most famous icebreaker in the world because since 1982 it has visited the Arctic and Antarctica every year (this is the first year that it has not traveled to the southern continent). With a length of 118 meters and 15,000 tons, with 4 diesel engines of about 14,000 Kw, it can operate at temperatures of 50 degrees below zero. It can break ice 1.5 meters thick at a speed of 5 knots (about 10 kilometers per hour), and 3 meters thick by ramming. It has capacity for about 60 scientists and 40 crew members.
The Polarstern is like a floating research center. On the plant of the motors and workshops (plumbers, electricians, computer scientists, helicopter maintenance), we have several laboratories mainly for water and ice analysis. In the bow there are several containers for taking air measurements. I have a space in the biology laboratory, since my job is to study the relationship between the sea and the atmosphere and see how ecosystems affect the formation of particles.
Higher up we have two floors with living and meeting rooms, library, and bedrooms. I share my room (C342) with Daiki Nomura, a Japanese researcher at Hokkaido University who studies gases, such as methane, that come out of ice and water. The upper floor houses the command bridge and offices with telecommunications equipment and various radars, including one to measure ice.
As the icebreaker has just settled on the new ice pack, I prepare to launch the investigation kit. To install the field on the ice, these days we have marathon days from 7:30 am to 11:30 pm, with meetings seven days a week. With the measurement tools in place, I will be able to observe the relationship between biological processes in the Arctic Ocean and cloud formation. More information, in fifteen days, from the tip of the Earth.
Manuel Dall'Osto is a CSIC researcher at the Barcelona Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC). The Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) is the only Spanish institution that participates in MOSAIC. It has two research projects from the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC): one that will study the mass and thickness of ice via satellite and another, led by Manuel Dall'Osto, which will investigate the relationship between marine biological matter and cloud formation.
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