New MOSAiC team now bound for the Arctic
Late Monday morning, the time had come: the German research vessels Maria S. Merian and Sonne departed Bremerhaven, headed for the Arctic. In addition to the ship’s crews, roughly 100 passengers were on board: researchers and Polarstern crewmembers. The two ships will tentatively rendezvous with the Polarstern near Svalbard this weekend, so that their passengers can relieve the current MOSAiC team. A substantial amount of scientific material, equipment and provisions will also be transferred.
The current team has been conducting Arctic research on board the Polarstern and on the MOSAiC floe since early March. The personnel transfer, originally planned for April, had to be cancelled after airports were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s fantastic that we can continue the expedition. Our Logistics Department refused to give up, and explored a broad range of options to make the next transfer possible,” says Prof Markus Rex, Expedition Leader for MOSAiC and an atmospheric expert at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).
Rex and his team spent the past two weeks in a strictly maintained quarantine at two hotels in Bremerhaven. The three tests for the coronavirus, taken at regular intervals during the quarantine, all came back negative. Once they had a clean bill of health, on Monday morning the members of the new team were taken by bus directly to the gangway, where they went on board. They were bid a fond farewell by e.g. the AWI’s Director, Prof Antje Boetius, Head of Logistics Dr Uwe Nixdorf, Dr Eberhard Kohlberg, who coordinated the quarantine procedures, and Dr Marcel Nicolaus, an AWI sea-ice physicist and member of the MOSAiC Project Board. All four were subsequently available to field questions from members of the press. The team members and those sending them off could only communicate by shouting or by mobile phone: no direct contact was allowed.
A few days from now, the Maria S. Merian and the Sonne will rendezvous with the Polarstern off the coast of Svalbard. The current team on the research icebreaker has spent the past several days dismantling many of the monitoring stations erected on the ice and bringing them back on board. However, a range of autonomous sensors were left on the floe, so that they can continue gathering data on the ocean, ice and atmosphere during the roughly three-week period before early June, when the new team will tentatively arrive at the MOSAiC floe.
At approximately the same time, the team from the third segment of the expedition will reach Bremerhaven, on board the Maria S. Merian and Sonne. The fact that the two ships could be deployed to support the MOSAiC expedition without any bureaucratic red tape is thanks to the combined efforts of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German Research Foundation, and the German Research Fleet Coordination Centre at
Universität Hamburg. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the two ships were unable to complete their own expeditions, which had been planned long in advance. The outstanding commitment of everyone involved made this alternative solution possible at short notice, and reflects the excellent solidarity among the scientific community. In addition to finding suitable ships for the transfer, the AWI’s Logistics Team also had to ensure that expedition members from more than a dozen countries could travel to Bremerhaven.