UEA researchers part of ground-breaking Arctic project

UEA PhD student Elise Droste will join the expedition in Summer 2020 (photo credit: Marlene Meister, Rebecca Gorniak, Sunke Trace-Kleeberg)

Researchers from UEA are part of a ground-breaking programme which will see the first year-round expedition into the central Arctic Ocean.

In the largest polar expedition in history, the German research icebreaker RV Polarstern will today set sail from Tromsø, Norway, to spend a year taking the closest ever look at the Arctic as the epicentre of global warming and to gain fundamental insights that are key to a better understanding of global climate change.

After more than five years of planning, the Multi-Disciplinary drifting Observatory for the study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) programme, led by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, will see the RV Polarstern frozen into the Arctic sea ice and then drift across the top of the Arctic Ocean.

Seven UK research teams will join hundreds of scientists from 18 other countries including Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.

The international teams will conduct a range of marine, atmospheric, sea-ice related and other research from the floating platform, field camps and advanced remote and autonomous vehicles. It is expected the vessel will complete its drift by October 2020.

The UK projects were granted £1.8 million of Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funding from the UK Government’s Business department to ensure the UK is at the forefront of international scientific collaborations.

Researchers from UEA are leading work on the role of sea ice on the seasonal carbon uptake by the polar ocean. Next summer PhD student Elise Droste (pictured) will join the final leg of the MOSAiC expedition to collect carbonate chemistry samples in seawater and sea ice.

"I’m beyond excited to be a part of this incredibly ambitious expedition!” she said. “It tackles the challenge of obtaining year-round and especially winter data from the high Arctic region head on, which is exactly what we need in order to gain the necessary understanding of how changes in one of the most sensitive regions on Earth are going to be affected by, and will in turn affect, our changing climate.

“The achievement will not just be in obtaining the data, but in putting our heads together with the other scientists from all over the world and from various disciplines to address some of the most pressing issues within this field.”

Leading UEA’s project, Dr Dorothee Bakker of the Centre of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences said: "Sea ice modulates carbon uptake by the polar oceans. MOSAiC will provide unique year-round observations of carbon transfer between the sea-ice covered Arctic Ocean, the sea ice and the overlying atmosphere. Elise’s research will improve understanding and modelling of carbon uptake by the polar oceans."

Prof Kevin Hiscock, head of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, is attending today’s farewell event in Norway.

Involvement in the expedition reflects the UK government’s commitment to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and underpinning, through research, of its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “The UK has a proud history of polar exploration and scientific discoveries, from Ernest Shackleton to Sir John Franklin.

“This latest polar expedition is the biggest ever undertaken and illustrates the extent and ambition of our international collaborations in the search for answers on climate change. With the Arctic ice cap melting at an alarming rate, it is imperative we understand the consequences of polar changes on the rest of the world.

“The work of the dedicated researchers on this ambitious project, right at the heart of the Arctic region, will help us do just that. This voyage could provide the way for us all to have a safer, greener and brighter future.”

In addition, the NERC Arctic Office worked closely with BEIS to secure £500,000 funding for UK researchers to join the vessel during the expedition phase.

NERC Executive Chair Prof Duncan Wingham said: “This unprecedented research project offers the opportunity for the UK research teams taking part to make a step-change in in-situ observations and contribute to understanding the regional and global consequences of Arctic change.”

Dr Markus Frey, of the British Antarctic Survey, another of the seven UK project teams, said: “Small salty particles produced above sea ice may influence water and ice cloud formation and therefore climate in a rapidly changing Arctic. MOSAiC provides us with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to investigate particle sources and processes above sea ice year-round in the poorly known central Arctic ocean.

“The new data will ultimately improve climate models and predictions of Arctic climate and sea ice. At the moment, I am most excited about arriving at the ice floe, when all the preparations will pay off, and data will start to come in.”


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