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German research vessel to return from 'dying Arctic'

October 12, 2020

The German Alfred Wegener Institute's Polarstern ship is set to return to the port on Monday, bringing home devastating proof of a "dying Arctic Ocean" and warnings of ice-free summers in just decades.

Polarstern vessel
Image: Steffen Graupner

Researchers coming back from a year-long research expedition in the Arctic have bad news: the Arctic Ocean is dying.

The Polarstern research vessel will dock in Bremerhaven, Germany on Monday after spending 389 days drifting through the Arctic, where scientists gathered more than 150 terabytes of data and 1,000 ice samples. While it will take up to two years to analyze all of the data, the initial reports said the ocean was failing.

Read more: Arctic ice shrinks to 2nd lowest level on record

"We witnessed how the Arctic Ocean is dying," mission leader Markus Rex told AFP. "We saw this process right outside our windows, or when we walked on the brittle ice."

Climate change accelerating damage

The  Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) showed the effect that climate change was having on the Arctic Ocean.

Read more: MOSAiC: Great Arctic expedition starts

Over 70 research institutes from 20 countries took part in the research, which showed an Arctic Ocean in peril. According to Rex, sometimes so much ice had melted that there were large patches of water that "sometimes stretch[ed] as far as the horizon."

"At the North Pole itself, we found badly eroded, melted, thin and brittle ice," he added.

The Arctic plays a key role in the global ecosystem, as it cools tropical air from the south to create weather and air currents. Without the Arctic cooling tropical air, it would change weather systems and conditions throughout the world.

Rex warned that if the warming trend in the North Pole continued, then there could be "an ice-free Arctic in the summer."

The researchers also collected water samples from beneath the ice during the polar night to to study plankton and bacteria to better understand how marine ecosystems function under extreme conditions.

Expedition in Arctic ice

kbd/shs (AFP, dpa)