Story at a glance

  • The longest Arctic expedition in history returned to Germany with data on the Arctic environment.
  • Scientists aboard described melting and brittle ice that interrupted their research.

The largest Arctic science expedition, led by the German research ship the Polarstern, has ended, with the ship docking back home in Germany after 13 months at sea. 

The New York Times chronicled the expedition, which, despite its success, had to contend with challenges ranging from polar bears and hazardous storms to allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. 

With assistance from roughly 300 scientists affiliated with the funding body the Alfred Wegener Institute, the mission recovered invaluable data regarding the Arctic environment, but reached a saddening conclusion: The Arctic is still melting.


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"We witnessed how the Arctic ocean is dying," Markus Rex, the lead researcher affiliated with the Alfred Wegener Institute, told Agence France-Presse. "We saw this process right outside our windows, or when we walked on the brittle ice."

Matthew Shupe, an atmospheric scientist aboard the Polarsten for a portion of time, noted the challenges of working on ice, but said seeing the impacts of climate change first hand was enlightening.

“The fact that we were embedded in the middle of that was really exciting,” he said. “We were embedded right in the middle of climate change.”

Shupe explained that he and his colleagues watch one floe — a sheet of floating ice — in particular freeze the ship into place slowly and then shrink and break apart, forcing the crew to retrieve equipment from the floe. He said it was severely fragmented by morning. 

The floe’s premature melting set the project back, with the original plan being to observe the floe and gather data for one year. “We never planned to be around for that ‘death of an ice floe’ process,” Shupe said in August to Science Magazine. 


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Published on Oct 13, 2020