by Matthew Shupe, CIRES/NOAA scientist and co-coordinator of MOSAiC

Since the beginning, MOSAiC has been designed with some basic principles in mind. “A full continuous year in the ice.”  “Following an ice floe to track its changes.”  “Use the same ice to examine processes from season to season…”   “The occurrence of a lead would be a special event that requires special science focus.”  “Ocean City, Met City, ROV City….”  “Equipment on ice powered from the ship.”  So many concepts that comprised our vision for MOSAiC. But it is now setting in that the sea ice had a different story…..

The Arctic in 2020 has a different story. In the end, apparently we cannot control the process; This is not a laboratory setting with well-behaved experiments. It is the Arctic, a changing Arctic, and it is taking us on its adventure. Much as it took past explorers like Nansen. So the question now is: what do we do in response? We stand at this crossroads. The Polarstern must come out of the ice because of the coronavirus pandemic. And at the same time our ice camp has drifted much faster than expected and is now falling apart. Almost all equipment is back on the ship as it comes to meet us at the ice edge. 

So what DO we do in response? It is time to adapt our strategy. To let go of some principles that might have been the foundation of our original design. Arctic change is manifesting right below our feed and we must now tune in to that change and find a way to quantify it. We must become more nimble on the ice, ready to adjust our installations on short notice. As we prepare to set out into the Arctic, this voyage has an adventurous air, more so than last September when we knew the plan. Once we board Polarstern, we won’t really know the plan for sure. We will head back to the jumbled remains of our MOSAiC floe, but will we stay there? Or possibly find suitable ice nearby? Maybe consider the stability of the L2 site in the distributed network? Or voyage further north to find more stable ice that will give us another 4 months of drift? At this point, MOSAiC is an adventure. A true expedition out into the Central Arctic. In search of stable ice that will give us a good perspective on the seasonal changes that are about to manifest across this complex atmosphere-ice-ocean system.

Leg 4 participants onboard luggage for their voyage to the Polarstern. Photo: Lianna Nixon/CIRES & CU Boulder, for the Alfred Wegener Institute (CC-BY 4.0).

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