May 28, 2020

Postcards from a frozen icebreaker — Part 25

Posted by larryohanlon

By Matthew Shupe

5/16/20 The Downfall of Met City
As of today, Met City is no more. Our largest installation on the ice, reduced to rubble. Fortunately, most equipment installed on the surface had already been removed. Brought back to the ship for its 3-week journey to the ice edge and back. Those instruments will all live to make more measurements.

The same cannot be said for our ice and ocean buoy measurements at the site. Two days ago, after lots of discussion about feasibility and the delay it would cause, the decision was made to try and recover buoys installed at Met City. Of particular focus was the Ocean Flux Buoy, which was now right on the edge of a small chunk of ice. Nearly broken free already, such that it might be as simple as pulling alongside with the ship and hoisting the system onboard with a crane.

Those ocean heat flux measurements are so important for tracking the overall thermodynamic and dynamic state of the ice. They pair with our equivalent atmosphere-ice measurements on the top surface of the ice. The melt season will be upon us shortly and we need to track the shifts in energy transfer that signify, and drive, this transition. With Met City in a precarious, and degrading, position we decided that the ocean flux buoy would likely be destroyed soon anyway, so a rescue was planned. No sure thing, but having that system onboard would at least give us the potential for later redeployment along with other instruments.

The recovery was planned for today, with the potential to explore extraction of other systems as well. But alas, over “night” as with so many other times recently, the ice has had something else in mind. What was once a loose and open collection of small ice chucks was now coming together with great pressure. Squeezing those assets left in the ice. Our on-site expeditioners traveled out from the ship on foot, a voyage made much easier now that the ice was pushed back together. They found what remained of the Met Hut….. crushed by the ice, pushed in on top of itself. Destroyed. And over by the buoys….. nothing. No trace of the flux buoy or four other systems that had been in the area. They simply vanished. Likely pulled under by rafting ice.

So after 7 months of MOSAiC, we’ve lost Met City. Nothing left except a few torn walls of the hut, jutting up out of a rubble field of ice blocks. Perhaps a short break in the expedition is good right now, to regain our bearings and adapt our strategy.

Scientists disassemble the 10-foot tower at Met City. Photo: Julia Schmale/Paul Scherrer Institute, for the Alfred Wegener Institute (CC-BY 4.0)

5/17/20 A New Adventure
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.

Read more of Shupe’s posts here

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: and @MOSAiCArctic.