The spectacular exchange of the "polarstern" team

The Polarstern on the way to Spitsbergen

It is the most complex and expensive Arctic expedition of all time. In September 2019, the first team set out with the research icebreaker "Polarstern" in Svalbard to freeze onto an ice floe and drift past the North Pole with it. The budget of the expedition is around 140 million euros. Around 300 scientists from 17 countries are expected to be on board during the course of the year. They come from Belgium, China, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Great Britain, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain

Mosaic expedition

Marine biologists, climatologists, oceanologists and meteorologists are involved in the MOSAiC expedition to explore the last white spot in climate research. A total of 600 international participants are accompanying the mission. An international fleet of four ice breakers, helicopters and airplanes supplies the team on this extreme route.

Mosaic Expedition: Crew goes from Kapitan Dranitsyn to Polarstern

The "Polarstern" team should be replaced about every two months. The scientists flew to Northern Norway from all over the world, from there to be brought to the research ship in icebreakers or airplanes. The third team arrived here on March 2nd, brought to the "Polarstern" by the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn. The corona pandemic changed plans and the research vessel had to stop its ice drift for three weeks. This is the only way to enable the next change of personnel on board, said expedition leader Markus Rex. "We are glad we found this solution," he said.

Mosaic expedition: The Polarstern in the background, the Kapitan Dranitsyn in the foreground

Actually, the third team should have left at the beginning of April. The scientists now had to stay on the floe for almost two months longer. The team change in Corona times was a logistical challenge. Special permits had to be obtained for scientists from all over the world in order to be able to travel to Germany.

Mosaic expedition: quarantine hotel in Bremerhaven

The team was then quarantined for two weeks in two Bremerhaven hotels.

Mosaic expedition: Doctors in the hotel in Bremerhaven prepare corona tests

They were regularly tested for Covid-19.

Mosaic Expedition: AWI Director Anje Boetius says goodbye to the ships at the port of Bremerhaven

Aircraft are currently not allowed to land on Svalbard. It was decided to take the team to Spitsbergen on the research vessels "Maria S. Merian" and "Sonne" from the University of Hamburg. The ships were available because other expeditions cannot take place. On May 18, the director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Antje Boetius, was able to bid farewell to the expedition members in the port of Bremerhaven.

Mosaic expedition: members of the expedition board the ship in Bremerhaven.

From the quarantine, the participants drove in buses directly to the gangway and went on board. However, departing and farewell parties could only communicate by shouting loudly or by mobile phone: direct contact was prohibited. They are supposed to meet the crew of the "Polarstern" in an ice-free bay off Spitsbergen.

Mosaic expedition: team clears up the clod.

The arctic day has now started on the floe. The team stayed on the "Polarstern" almost two months longer than planned. Now they had to dismantle most of the valuable research equipment and load it onto the ship. However, many autonomously measuring sensors have remained on the floe, so that the devices, which do not require any maintenance, can continue to measure the ocean, ice and atmosphere even when the researchers are absent for around three weeks.

Like hardly any other person in the world, the team experienced a time without Corona in the past few weeks. After the interruption, the "Polarstern" should return to the floe with the fourth MOSAiC team at the beginning of June in order to continue the drift.

Polar bears roam around research equipment in the Arctic

You could also look forward to a special award during this time. Photographer Esther Horvath won first prize in the nature category of the Word Press Photo Awards with a polar bear photo. Here the bears roam around research equipment.

View from Maria S. Merian to Svalbard

After a leisurely journey, the new team from Bremerhaven arrived in the Ijsfjorden in front of Spitzbergen, the meeting point with the "Polarstern". However, this was a long time coming.

Mosaic Expedition: Polar Star frozen on the floe.

The journey of the "Polarstern" through the ice, which is currently very thick, turned out to be difficult. Progress was slow. The search for the best route was also supported from the air by helicopters. The photo shows the "Polarstern" frozen on its floe in mid-March.

RV Maria S. Merian and RV Sonne in Svalbard / Spitzbergen

The crew and researchers had to stay on the ships in the Svalbard Bay off Spitsbergen for over a week – under strict quarantine.

Arrival of the Polarstern in Svalbard

Finally: On June 4th, the "Polarstern" arrives at the meeting point. It will take several days before the exchange, refueling and loading of food and equipment is done and the "Polarstern" can travel back to her floe with the fourth team to continue the expedition.

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