Dartmouth researchers part of Arctic MOSAiC expedition

{child_byline}By Damien Fisher

Union Leader Correspondent


HANOVER — It’s been more than a decade in the making, but the German icebreaker RV Polarstern has set sail for the Arctic, and four Dartmouth researchers are joining the crew.

The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition is the largest venture to the Arctic to date, including more than 600 people from 19 different countries and costing more than $150 million.

The goal for the expedition is to gather data about what is changing in the Arctic.

The Polarstern left Tromsø, Norway, on Sept. 20, and heads north where it will be frozen into the sea ice, allowing researchers to study changing climate, the shrinking sea ice, and the impact on polar marine life.

The researchers will spend significant time out on the ice conducting experiments and gathering data. They will be looking at the snow and ice coverage, and will be using highly sophisticated equipment to map it.

Donald Perovich, an engineering professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School, is scheduled to spend two months aboard the Polarstern next summer as part of the fifth leg of the trip, as more people and supplies get rotated into the expedition. He spent this summer loading the equipment and gear onto the ship.

Perovich will be studying the snow and ice cover on the ocean along with Dartmouth’s David Clemens-Sewall, a Thayer School graduate student working on his Ph.D.; graduate student Ian Raphael ‘18; and Christopher Polashenski, an adjunct assistant professor at Thayer and a research geophysicist at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. According to the MOSAiC website, Raphael is serving on the first leg of the trip, while Clemens-Sewall and Polashenski will be joining the fourth leg.

Clemens-Sewall said the expedition presents scientific opportunities he hasn’t had before.

“We almost never have the opportunity to study a system such as the Arctic sea ice from all these different angles,” he said.

Clemens-Sewall will be flying in on a plane in April for the fourth leg of the project. The team already on the ice will be grooming a landing strip for the plane to get in. He’s not intimidated by the expedition.

“I spent four seasons in Antarctica and one in Alaska,” Clemens-Sewall said. “Compared to that, the fact we’ll have an icebreaker with a doctor on board and a power plant, this seems to me a very well supported project.”

The ship will be supported by other icebreaker ships that will bring in people and supplies as available.

According to the expedition’s website, the Polarstern will enter the Siberian sector of the Arctic in thin sea ice conditions in late summer and drift into the ice for a year. A regional network of observational sites will be set up on the sea ice in an area of up to about 31 miles from the Polarstern. The ship and the surrounding network will drift with the natural ice drift across the polar cap toward the Atlantic, while the sea ice thickens during winter.

Large-scale research facilities will be set up on board the ship and on the sea ice next to it, in the so-called ice camp.

The German research aircraft Polar 5 and Polar 6 will be operated to support the central MOSAiC site. The landing strip will be built especially for these research planes and for resupply flights in spring 2020.

Both Clemens-Sewall and Perovich believe the changes going on in the Arctic present challenges for everyone.

“There’s an awareness the Arctic is undergoing enormous changes,” Perovich said. “This impacts the ice cover and the ecosystems, it impacts human activities, resource extractions, shipping, coastal communities ... Changes are happening now and we need to improve understanding of what is going on.”

Perovich has been going to the Arctic for the past 40 years, and said the changes in the region are pronounced. Since he started, he said, “we’ve lost more than half the aerial coverage of sea ice, and the ice that’s left is thinner than it used to be.”

“Snow and ice has a lot of interesting science, and it affects people’s lives,” Clemens-Sewall said.

“In the big picture, we know that the Arctic system is changing. I really hope out of this project we’ll collect the data to predict how it will change in the future,” he said. “Hopefully we can avoid more problems down the road.”

Saturday, November 16, 2019
Wednesday, November 13, 2019