A group of scientists from around the world are in the Arctic for a massive year-long expedition. About 900 people from 19 nations are involved, including two research professors from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey.
Back in early September, Dr. Tim Stanton was in his lab tinkering with a green motherboard with connectors, sockets and memory chips.
“Behind us here is the workstation that's got digital scopes and signal generators and power supplies and things like that,” says Stanton.
He’s Emeritus Professor of Oceanography at the Naval Postgraduate School or NPS.
Today, Stanton is far from the comforts of his office. He’s been travelling to the Arctic on a big ship that can break through the ice.
“We're going to go from wide open, kind of rough seas in the northern Atlantic. And then when we get near the ice edge, everything sort of calms down because the ice dissipates the waves. And then you start crunching through thin ice and then you start actually ice breaking and it goes from quite silent and tranquil to very noisy,” explains Stanton.
Stanton has been doing what he calls ‘ice work’ for 30 years. He’s one of hundreds of physicists, ecologists, biologists and other scientists involved.
The project, called MOSAiC, is described as the largest Central Arctic expedition ever. The goal is to take a close look at the Arctic to better understand climate change. And to answer questions like why ice cover is melting so quickly and what impact the Arctic really has on our weather and climate.
“MOSAIC is a manned ice camp that's going to be having a hotel ship attached to an ice floe for a whole year to make a wide range of observations that can't be done autonomously,” says Stanton.
The manned ice station will be trapped in the ice for an entire year. Because Arctic ice moves, that station is expected to drift up to 7km a day. They’ll be living on the icebreaker ship, which will drift with the station and ice floe.
This type of expedition has never been done before. The logistics are monumental.
The central site will be manned by a total of 600 experts over the course of a year that will visit the Arctic location in phases, five icebreakers will be used and the expedition’s operating costs are over $200,000 per day.
The conditions these scientists will be working under are extreme. There’s a risk the central ice camp could completely break up. Temperatures in the winter will drop to negative 49 degrees. And don’t forget about the polar bears.
“We're going to be working into the dusk for sure and possibly at night as well. And that's pretty freaky because they do actually hunt you. They actually stalk,” explains Stanton.
Then, there’s the Arctic foxes.
“We have Arctic foxes, which are gorgeous. They are tiny, little white foxes. Very, very shy. Very unusual to see them, but they love chewing wires,” says Stanton.
A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report revealed the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled since the early 1990s. The report also showed that global warming has led to widespread shrinking of ice sheets and glaciers.
Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski has been involved in this project since the beginning and helped create the implementation plan. Maslowski is a Research Professor of Oceanography at NPS. He won’t be going on the trip but rather waiting for all the data to come in.
“So by improving the representation of the Arctic in the model, we’ll improve the place of the Arctic within a global climate system and can better address this kind of societal relevance issues, “ says Maslowski.
He believes the data collected on this expedition will be used by the scientific community for the next several decades. It will also be open to the public.