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Not Sailing


Loaded with research equipment and international scientists, the icebreaker RV Polarstern is steaming towards the central Arctic, searching for the perfect parking spot next to an ice floe.

The Polarstern with an aurora above, September 21, 2019 (image courtesy S. Hendricks / AWI)

This patch of ice is the star of the show: it’s where hundreds of scientists will live and work for 13 months as part of the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate expedition (MOSAiC). The ice must be thick enough to support the weight of people and instruments—yet thin and dynamic enough to fuel interesting science. It needs to stay intact for the duration of the year, without breaking up. And it shouldn’t drift into areas where countries have restricted research access.

“We need a chunk of ice that strikes that perfect balance: not too thick, but not too thin,” said Matthew Shupe, MOSAiC co-lead and a CIRES/NOAA scientist whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy. “The thin ice is what we really want to study scientifically—but we also need to make sure everyone stays safe.” Read on.