For all of you who are suffering from the summer heat right now, I have a cool recommendation: "Frozen at the North Pole. The logbook of the "Polarstern", written by expedition leader Markus Rex.
Rex is a professor of atmospheric physics and heads atmospheric research at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. The AWI-led "MOSAiC" project, in which a research vessel with hundreds of scientists on board spent the winter trapped in the Arctic ice. Their aim was to collect research data. Nowhere else is the Earth warming as rapidly as in the Arctic, but reliable climate models are scarce for lack of data. Changing this was the mission of the MOASiC expedition, in which more than 20 nations were involved. MOSAiC, by the way, stands for "Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate."
I also became intrigued about the project through a personal experience. During the Helmholtz Annual Meeting in 2019, which I had the good fortune to attend, researchers reported on their plans for the expedition in a live broadcast from Bremerhaven. The next day, they wanted to set off with their ship. The idea originally came from the polar pioneer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1931). I had already visited his ship, the "Fram", with which he was on route between 1893 and 1896, in the museum in Oslo. The “Fram” is tiny. On board the Polarstern, on the other hand, there is a canteen, fitness rooms, laboratories, etc. Polar researcher Markus Rex goes back to Nansen's climate descriptions at that time and compares them with those that his crew finds on the current expedition. The changes, especially the decline of the closed ice cover, are frightening.
Even the years of preparation for the MOSAiC expedition were a logistical tour de force. The book describes how Corona threw all the carefully prepared plans out the window, and the researchers nevertheless continued. And we experience firsthand what it's like to be frozen in a boat in the Arctic Ocean drifting through the ice. Rex tells us about the silence and darkness of the polar night, the clinking and cracking of the ice, the encounter with curious polar bears, the research of the scientist, and about playing soccer on the ice....
You can follow this great journey and get a great impression of the size of the project and the importance it has for the participants and the international scientific community. Rex describes that the venture was only possible through international cooperation and spontaneous willingness to help. That would hardly be imaginable in this form today: Russian icebreakers, for example, rush to the rescue when the originally planned supply chain collapses due to the pandemic.
When reading, your try to imagine how the polar night must feel or what the thought would do to you that no one could come to the rescue if something unforeseen happened. Would you be able to survive it well? How did the people on board prepare for it? What tricks did they have? How do you work when you can only stand it outside for a few hours and getting dressed and undressed is such a cumbersome procedure? And how dangerous are polar bears, anyway?
The book provides answers to all these questions and, above all, has wonderful illustrations – of life on the ship, the teams' missions, auroras and the Arctic Ocean.
The Greatest Polar Expedition of All Time: The Arctic Mission to the Epicenter of Climate Change by Markus Rex (Greystone Books).