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Coronavirus Shutdown Forces Research Ship to Break Out of Arctic Ice

Apr 27, 2020   |   Nature

"When scientists were planning MOSAiC — an epic research expedition that would remain trapped in Arctic sea ice for one year — they considered the North Pole’s hazards. They worried about hypothermia, isolation, crushing ice and polar bears. They had dozens of contingency plans. But no one anticipated a pandemic," reports Nature.

"The travel restrictions and flight cancellations imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak have now forced mission planners to make a seemingly impossible decision. Polarstern, the German research vessel central to the expedition, will temporarily leave its position in the ice to exchange its crew, and so will be forced to abandon the research camp where it has been frozen since October.

"The disruption is a blow to the mission’s researchers, who have created a unique platform from which to study climate change in the Arctic, with a data due to be collected continuously over an entire year. Although they hope to refreeze the ship at the same camp after a three-week pause, the interruption will leave a hefty gap in the data set — and potentially miss a crucial time for data collection as Arctic ice begins its springtime melt.

“'Ideally, we would not leave the ice — but given all the circumstances, I think it’s amazing we were able to come up with a solution to continue the experiment,' says Donald Perovich, a geophysicist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and a member of MOSAiC’s project board."

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