The First Big Storm


A three-day storm, 40-mph winds cut power to science “cities” set up on Arctic sea ice.

A powerful winter storm swept over the German RV Polarstern icebreaker earlier this month, tearing new cracks in the ice floe next to the ship, sending ice-based instruments adrift, and forcing a rescue-and-reconstruction process that could take days or weeks of work. No people were hurt during the storm.

“This storm was a fantastic opportunity to study the important role of such events in Arctic climate. We already see the effects in our measurements before, during and after the storm,” said Markus Rex, leader of the Alfred Wegener Institut’s (AWI) MOSAiC expedition, Multidisciplinary Drift Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate.

“It also changed the map of our surroundings,” Rex said. “A shear zone formed right through our observatory with one part drifting about 500m sideways relative to the rest of the installations. We will need to relocate and reconstruct some of our equipment on the ice.”

AWI is leading the international, 13-month mission to study all aspects of the Arctic climate system, including interactions among the ocean, the sea ice, and the atmosphere. Several hundred scientists from 19 nations are involved, rotating through 2- to 3-month-long “legs” of the mission. U.S. participation is primarily supported by the National Science Foundation, which is contributing roughly $24 million to the project, making among the largest Arctic research initiatives the agency has ever mounted. The Department of Energy is also highly invested in the mission, funding nearly $10 million and providing the largest suite of atmospheric instruments.

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