German research icebreaker Polarstern reached the North Pole and reveals the true state of polar ice

German research icebreaker Polarstern reached the North Pole and reveals the true state of polar ice

MOSAiC expedition reaches 

the North Pole

During the final leg of the expedition, the research vessel Polarstern reaches the northernmost point on the EarthI’m very surprised to see how soft and easy to traverse the ice up to 88° North is this year, having thawed to the point of being thin and porous,” says Captain Thomas Wunderlich. “Even after passing 88° North we mostly maintained a speed of 5-7 knots; I’ve never seen that so far north,” says Polarstern’s captain. “For this region, the current situation is historic. Normally it’s wise to avoid the region north of Greenland, because it’s home to the thicker and older ice, and virtually impassable. But now we’re finding extended stretches of open water, reaching nearly to the Pole.”

 


[19. August 2020] 

At 12:45 pm on 19 August 2020 the German research icebreaker Polarstern reached the North Pole. The ship followed a route to the north of Greenland – and through a region that, in the past, was densely covered with ice, including multiyear ice. The journey from the northern Fram Strait to the Pole only took six days to complete. To mark this momentous event, countless members of the expedition team gathered on the bridge, where their eyes were glued to the 

position monitors, and then celebrated having reached the Pole together. 

  • Chief scientist and the captain hold a steel plaque that was especially made for our visit to the North Pole.
  • Chief scientist and the captain hold a steel plaque that was especially made for our visit to the North Pole.
  • Polarstern Captain Thomas Wunderlich and nautical officers Felix Kentges and Jacob Langhinrichs after our transit to the north Pole
  • Photo of cheif scientist Markus Rex and on duty officer Felix shaking hands once they made it to the North Pole
  • Heading for the new MOSAiC ice floe, Polarstern takes the shortest way to the area of interest: via the North Pole.
  • Heading for the new MOSAiC ice floe, Polarstern takes the shortest way to the area of interest: via the North Pole. On tghe way north, the sea ice is surprisingly weak, has lots of melt ponds, and Polarstern is able to easily break it.
  • Heading for the new MOSAiC ice floe, Polarstern takes the shortest way to the area of interest: via the North Pole. On tghe way north, the sea ice is surprisingly weak, has lots of melt ponds, and Polarstern is able to easily break it.
  • Polarstern approaches the North Pole and passes ice easy to sail through. Covered with melt ponds and melting from the bottom, the sea ice is no real barrier for the research icebreaker on her way to search for a new ice floe to study the onset and early freezing on the final MOSAiC leg.
  • Polarstern approaches the North Pole and passes ice easy to sail through. Covered with melt ponds and melting from the bottom, the sea ice is no real barrier for the research icebreaker on her way to search for a new ice floe to study the onset and early freezing on the final MOSAiC leg.

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This year satellite imagery indicated that, even past 87° North, the ice cover was surprisingly loose. Accordingly, MOSAiC Expedition Leader Prof Markus Rex and Polarstern Captain Thomas Wunderlich decided to head north, starting from the position of the last resupply rendezvous in the northern Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. “Up until 87° 30’ North, for the most part we passed through open water, in some cases stretching to the horizon,” recalls Prof Markus Rex from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. “Based on the satellite imagery, at first we weren’t sure whether the 

loose ice cover was due to wind and currents, and were concerned that, if it was, a change in weather conditions could compact it again. Then we would have been caught in a mousetrap, and could have become trapped in the ice,” reports the MOSAiC Expedition Leader, who had previously reached the North Pole on 

board a research aircraft, in 2000. Once in the region, however, they found that much of the sea ice truly had melted away, and hadn’t simply been broken up by 

the wind. This is yet another unique phenomenon that was observed and investigated during MOSAiC, following the substantially accelerated melting rates in the Siberian sector in July. 

For the final phase of MOSAiC, the expedition team is focusing on the freezing phase: the last piece of the puzzle in terms of observing the Arctic ice throughout its annual cycle. After the MOSAiC floe, as expected, broke up near the ice edge in Fram Strait in July, the team set course further north, where the freezing phase 

will soon begin.

I’m very surprised to see how soft and easy to traverse the ice up to 88° North is this year, having thawed to the point of being thin and porous,” says Captain Thomas Wunderlich. “Even after passing 88° North we mostly maintained a 

speed of 5-7 knots; I’ve never seen that so far north,” says Polarstern’s captain.

 “For this region, the current situation is historic. Normally it’s wise to avoid the region north of Greenland, because it’s home to the thicker and older ice, and virtually 

impassable. But now we’re finding extended stretches of open water, reaching nearly to the Pole.”

Chief scientist and the captain hold a steel plaque that was especially made for our visit to the North Pole.
Polarstern Plaque (Photo: Lianna Nixon)

The ship’s course was determined on the basis of sea-ice charts, and was selected 

in order to provide the fastest access to 

the target region for the closing segment 

of MOSAiC, in the centre of the Transpolar 

Drift. 

Moving on from the Pole, the Polarstern may follow the Transpolar Drift a bit 

further (i.e., i.e. from the pole towards Siberia), until she reaches ca. 87° North. “Depending on the ice conditions, however, we’ll also start looking for a suitable 

floe in the vicinity of the North Pole, so that we can start working on the ice as 

soon as possible,” explains Markus Rex.The researchers’ priorities will be the beginning of freezing and the early phase of ice formation. Ideally, they will study these processes on an ice floe that is as similar to the MOSAiC floe as possible.

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