Icebreaker Polarstern to be frozen in ice for a year

NWO will participate in a unique polar study

8 May 2018

Getting stuck in sea ice is normally the last thing that ships want to do. However, the German icebreaker will be frozen in sea ice at the North Pole for a year. That will enable polar researchers to investigate the polar winter while the Polarstern makes an unknown voyage on the sea currents. This offers polar researchers a unique opportunity of working on a floating field laboratory. Dutch researchers can participate in this project thanks to a financial contribution from NWO.

NWO is contributing more than 870,000 euros to the MOSAiC project: this is the acronym for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. With the contribution the participation of Dutch researchers on board the Polarstern has been purchased in the form of three research projects.

The Polarstern will set sail from Norway in the autumn of 2019 and the expedition will last for a year. The total project costs are 60 million euros and this is being funded by an international consortium under the leadership of the AWI (Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung). The project is an outstanding opportunity for Dutch polar research. The key themes are the rapid climate change in the North Pole region, the consequences of the loss of sea ice, improved weather and climate predictions, the atmosphere, and the ecosystem.

Polarstern Copyright: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Mario HoppmannImage: Polarstern Copyright: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Mario Hoppmann


The origins of MOSAiC lie in the famous Fram expedition of Fridtjof Nansen, 1893-1896. This Norwegian explorer allowed his specially adapted ship, the Fram, to be frozen into the ice in the hope of reaching the North Pole with the sea currents. The Polarstern will float on sea currents under the sea ice from Siberia towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Fram in museum Copyright: Wikimedia / João FerroImage: Fram in the museum Copyright: Wikimedia / João Ferro


Dutch participation was expedited during the White House Arctic Science Ministerial in Washington, in September 2016, which the then State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science (Sander Dekker) took part in. The collaboration with the German AWI did not come out of the blue. The NPP has several international networks. For example, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the AWI 30 years ago. That makes it possible to share and grant access to each other's research facilities.

Arctic sea ice-pelagic coupling of the carbon and sulfur cycles
Dr J. Stefels, University of Groningen
On board the German icebreaker Polarstern, an international team of researchers will spend one year researching the relationship between biological, physical and chemical processes in the sea ice of the North Pole and how these are linked to climate. We want to collaborate in this unique programme through research into the role of sea ice in the sequestration of CO2 and the production of the climate cooling gas dimethyl sulphide. This project will provide unique insights into the future development of sea ice and how the climate can respond to this. The hypothesis that we will investigate is: will the disappearance of sea ice amplify climate change?

The role of sea ice in the life cycle of polar cod (Boreogadus saida) and its prey
Dr J.A. van Franeker, Wageningen Marine Research
The importance of sea ice in the life cycle of the Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) and its prey.
As a result of climate change, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is decreasing. Many animals, such as the Arctic cod, use the sea ice as a source of food and as a sanctuary, at least in certain seasons. However, as the Arctic Ocean is difficult to sample, little is known about the use of sea ice by the Arctic cod in different seasons. This project will investigate to what extent the Arctic cod and its prey are dependent on sea ice as a food source throughout the entire year. With the outcomes we want to predict the consequences of the expected decrease in sea ice.

Multi-scale model analysis of Arctic surface-boundary layer exchange of climate-active trace gases and aerosol precursors
Dr L. Ganzeveld, Wageningen University and Research
A strong decrease of sea ice in the Arctic area is expected to further influence the climate. Changes in the exchange of greenhouse gases and other gases that form dust particles and clouds will occur between the open ocean, sea ice and the atmosphere. The researchers will interpret measurements of these exchange processes using models with a mechanistic representation of all relevant processes. It will then be possible to use these models to determine the large-scale and long-term consequences of the expected changes in the exchange and concentrations of greenhouse gases and dust particles in the Arctic region.

Source: NWO