The icebreaker with a scientific expedition that had explored the Arctic for more than a year returned to its homeport in Germany on Monday. Scientists are sounding the alarm about the rapidly melting sea ice caused by global warming.
The RV Polarstern arrived at the North Sea port of Bremerhaven, from where it left 389 days ago, bringing a wealth of data that will help researchers better predict climate change in the coming decades.
Expedition leader Markus Rex informed AFP that this summer, instead of ice, the ship faced unusually wet conditions over northern Greenland, which allowed it to unplanned re-routing. "Directly at the North Pole, we found melted, thin, brittle ice" and "liquid water to the horizon," he added.
"We are watching the Arctic sea ice die," the scientist lamented, explaining that if climate change continues, the Arctic may not have sea ice in the summer in a few decades in the summer. This will not only cause significant changes to the lives of the indigenous communities in the region but also disrupt the planet's cooling system.
Despite some complications from the coronavirus pandemic, "we've achieved pretty much what we intended," assured the Rex Associated Press. Measurements were carried out throughout the year, with a brief interruption, when the vessel had to leave its position for three weeks in May to collect supplies and rotate crew members.
'We are back with a treasure trove of data with countless samples of ice, snow and water cores,' explained the climate physicist at the German Institute for Polar and Oceanic Research. Alfred Wegener, who organized the expedition. Last fall, the Polarstern moored on a large ice floe, where an ice camp was set up, creating a small science village that was visited by 60 polar bears.
The 150 terabytes of data collected are expected to help understand the complex processes taking place at the North Pole and leading to accelerated warming in the region compared to the rest of the planet.
A € 150 million mission investigated the atmosphere, ocean environment and sea ice. A full analysis of the data until they are published in scientific publications should take one or two years, according to AFP. The goal is to develop climate forecasting models and determine what heatwaves, heavy rains or storms will look like on Earth in 20, 50 or 100 years.
We've collected more data than we intended and it will take years, even decades, to review, said AP Melinda Webster, a sea ice expert at Fairbanks Alaska University, whose work is funded by NASA.
More than 300 scientists from 20 countries took part in the expedition, including the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China.