Antje Boetius on a research expedition in the Arctic
On September 30, 2023, the research vessel Polarstern returned to Bremerhaven. Hector Fellow Antje Boetius, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), participated in the Polarstern expedition named ArcWatch‑1, which started on August 3 in Tromsø, Norway. The team of almost 100 crew and scientists measured sea ice thickness and properties, recorded the currents and chemical properties of the ocean and investigated life in and under the ice, in the open water and at the bottom of the deep sea. Their data show significant changes compared to previous expeditions.
The large-scale deployment of the EM-Bird, a sensor system deployed from the Polarstern helicopter, as well as parallel aircraft campaigns showed: the thickness of the level sea ice was still 1.2 metres at the beginning of September — more than in the summer of the MOSAiC expedition in 2020 or at the largest sea ice minimum in 2012. “Accordingly, we found hardly any ice algae on the underside of the sea ice. Especially Melosira arctica was missing, which can form metre-long chains and is an important nutrient supplier for the entire ecosystem. The ice looked rather dead this year. Due to the darkening by snow, algae floated up from the water and formed a film under the ice, to get some light,” reports chief scientist Antje Boetius. The physical oceanographers on board also discovered changes in the uppermost ocean layer, which was saltier than in previous years. The comparison with the previous survey years 2012 and 2020 also showed differences for the planktonic life floating in the water.
The scientists of the research expedition "AWIs4Future", a regional group of Scientists for Future, took the opportunity to appeal on social media to take the climate crisis seriously with an image from the Arctic and called for participation in the global climate strike.
Interested parties can get further insights into the expedition as early as the turn of the year: A documentary, produced by UFA Documentary, with the working title ARCWATCH — HOFFNUNG IM EIS will be broadcas on December 29 at 9:45 p.m. on the German TV channel ARD and will be available in the ARD-Mediathek.