May 25, 2020
By Matthew Shupe
5/1/20 Early Return
It is such a strange love affair I have with MOSAiC. I guess I just couldn’t wait to get back…. The plan was not to return until Leg 6, which would have started sometime in August. But the months since our return from Leg 1 have been anything but what was expected. The ice has been so dynamic…. Seemingly going through significant fracture events nearly every time the winds change. Leg 2 was a little quieter in this regard, but the extended leg 3 has been a never-ending series of responding to changing ice. Rescue this, move that. We’ve lost many installations, especially in our distributed network. All of this challenge has been exacerbated by the overall rate of drift. We are a couple of months ahead of the “predicted” trajectory based on past observations. This rapid flow of ice across the central Arctic is linked to some interesting and unique large-scale phenomena. A very high Arctic Oscillation index, sustained at high levels not seen in decades, has pushed the central Arctic ice, which entraps MOSAiC, towards the Fram Strait. This rapid and more southerly movement might have also contributed to all of the breaking.
Of course the ice is also much thinner than it has been in the past. At the same time, and likely related, the upper troposphere and stratosphere have also been organized into a strong polar vortex that has also led to the largest Arctic ozone hole ever observed! The circulation pattern finally relented in late March, and the ozone hole diminished in the first weeks of April. But what an anomalous year of large-scale circulation it has been. What does this mean for MOSAiC science and interpretation?
And then on top of these natural challenges, we have the global COVID-19 pandemic. We had only scant news of this at the end of Leg 1, but it then quickly took hold on the world, causing all kinds of complications for our international expedition. It has made it difficult to transfer our people, limiting our logistical operations in March and thereafter. Fortunately, our people out in the Arctic are at one of the safest places on Earth, and we intend to keep it that way. But, now the Earth, and MOSAiC, have both changed in the 4 months that I’ve been home. Equipment has been destroyed. The camp has been threatened by ice dynamics and we may eventually need to pack up and move back northward. Logistics have gotten much more complicated with rotations of people uncertain. With so much invested in the project over many years, I just could no longer stay on the sidelines. I could not wait until August to return. And so I’ve injected myself back into MOSAiC. Strapping in for a wild ride over the coming 4 months. Something so exhausting yet irresistible about this!
Scientist Matthew Shupe (CIRES/University of Colorado Boulder) is blogging from an icebreaker frozen into Arctic Ocean sea ice, so far north that the Northern Lights are no longer visible. Shupe is co-coordinator of the international Arctic climate mission MOSAiC, or Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. Today, he’s among about 100 people aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern, which is frozen into an ice floe where it will drift until September 2020. Shupe, who also works for the NOAA Physical Sciences Division in Boulder, Colorado, began planning the mission more than a decade ago, with an expanding network of scientific leaders from around the world. In a series of short posts from the ship, he shares his experience during the first several weeks of the expedition, led by the Alfred Wegener Institute. Shupe is aboard AWI’s Polarstern until late December; he’ll return to the ship for at least one more two-month stint next year. U.S. funding for MOSAiC sciences comes primarily from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. Follow the expedition: https://follow.mosaic-expedition.org/ and @MOSAiCArctic.