Oxford Postgraduate Involved in Largest Ever Arctic Expedition

Oxford Postgraduate Involved in Largest Ever Arctic Expedition

Sam Cornish is a DPhil student studying the physical oceanography of the Arctic Ocean. He recently spent time on the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) as part of the MOSAiC School, supported by IASC, APECS, MOSAiC, AWI and ARICE. Below, he shares his experience of being involved in the largest Arctic expedition ever undertaken.

‘The German icebreaker Polarstern is currently frozen into pack ice north of 85N in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. The ship’s lights are visible from space in the darkness of polar night. On the starboard side of the ship is a 3 km wide ice floe on which small cities, populated by scientific instruments, are connected by skidoo tracks and electrical cables to the ship. Scientists in red snowsuits attend to their instruments and deploy remote controlled vehicles under the ice. Polar bear guards keep a constant watch.

This ice floe is the central observatory of the MOSAiC expedition. It will be home for the Polarstern for a whole year, during which time ship and ice floe will drift across the north pole towards Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard, following the Transpolar Drift.

A 40 km wide network of smaller observing sites surrounds the central observatory. This network was deployed by a team onboard the Russian icebreaker Akademik Fedorov. I was lucky enough to be part of that team, one of 20 postgraduates selected to join the MOSAiC School. It was a privilege to work on the ice, and make a personal connection to a fascinating environment that remotely I engage with through computer models and maths.

Compared to the rest of the world, the Arctic is experiencing the most dramatic change, but is also the most dramatically under-observed.

Why, and how, is the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world? And what are the implications of Arctic changes for the midlatitudes? To answer these questions, we need a better understanding of the interrelationships between atmosphere, ice, ocean, biology and biogeochemistry in the Arctic. MOSAiC, the biggest expedition of its kind, aims to plug this gap, with scientists and instrumentation from across the disciplines working together over a whole annual cycle.

One night on the Fedorov we were kept up by the sound of ice squeezing against the hull. Sea ice is dynamic; instruments can be buried where ice floes converge, cables can be snapped as floes shear or leads (cracks) open. The central floe, chosen for its thickness and stability, has already sheared, separating one part 500 m from the other. The MOSAiC team will have to dig in and be resourceful in harsh conditions. But the prize is big: to deliver a dataset that could help revolutionise Arctic science.’

While on the expedition, Sam took part in producing a YouTube video to explain Arctic Processes:

You can follow the progress of the expedition via the MOSAiC webapp: https://follow.mosaic-expedition.org/

Sam is posted photos and mini-podcasts for his MOSAiC School outreach project online: follow @sbcornish and @sambcornish for updates