The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) together with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is stepping in to support the MOSAiC expedition in the Arctic Ocean by sending the research vessels Sonne and Maria S. Merian to Spitzbergen. There they will rendezvous with the research icebreaker Polarstern and perform a complete changeover of approximately 100 personnel as well as exchanging cargo and supplies. "We are delighted to be able to support the MOSAiC expedition in this way," said DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker in Bonn. "We are preventing the premature termination of the project and therefore protecting research from the loss of extremely valuable data."
As the originally planned supply trips by Russian, Swedish or Chinese icebreakers cannot currently take place due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is also impossible to change crews and science teams by aircraft via Spitzbergen or Greenland, an alternative plan was required. Within a matter of days, the responsible decision-making bodies at the DFG agreed to a plan worked out by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the German Research Fleet Coordination Centre at Universität Hamburg.
The two vessels, Sonne and Maria S. Merian, will depart from Bremerhaven on 18 May 2020 with around 100 passengers and various equipment and accommodation containers. A few days later, in a sheltered ice-free fjord in Spitzbergen, the ships will then rendezvous with the Polarstern, which is interrupting its measuring programme for approximately three weeks to meet the other vessels. After the passengers and equipment have been transferred, the research icebreaker will return to its original position. Strict quarantine and testing measures will be observed for at least 14 days before the vessels depart to avoid, as far as possible, spreading SARS-CoV-2 to the Polarstern.
The Maria S. Merian is jointly funded by the DFG and the BMBF as a central research facility. The DFG bears 70 percent of the operating costs for the vessel and the BMBF covers the remaining 30 percent. Due to the travel restrictions imposed in response to coronavirus, the Maria S. Merian cannot currently be used for any other scientific purposes and, like the BMBF-funded Sonne, was forced to halt its cruise programme at the end of March 2020.
The Polarstern, which is operated by the AWI, has been in the Arctic Ocean since September 2019 as part of the international project MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate). With a total budget of over €140 million, a duration of 390 days and a team of approximately 600 scientists from 20 nations, MOSAiC is the most ambitious polar expedition ever launched. For the first time, MOSAiC is enabling researchers to study the Arctic climate over a whole year, including the Arctic winter, with a wide range of measuring instruments. The Polarstern serves as the central research station and base camp. Securely anchored to a large ice floe, it is drifting southwards with the movement of the sea ice. Its current position is approximately midway between the North Pole and Spitzbergen.
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