A daring attempt to send a research vessel completely trapped in ice across the North Pole could lead to more accurate weather and climate forecasts, say scientists.
Stranded and unable to move, the RV Polarstern will be carried by slowly flowing ice as the bitterly cold and constantly dark Arctic winter closes in.
During the year-long 2500km voyage, teams of scientists – protected from polar bears by armed guards – will take measurements and make observations that have never been possible before.
The bold venture, called MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate), echoes a famous polar expedition more than a century ago.
In 1893, Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen tried to reach the North Pole by allowing his vessel, the Fram, to freeze in place and drift with the ice.
He and his crew eventually abandoned the ship, which continued to drift past the pole, emerging between Greenland and the Svalbard island group in what is now known as the Fram Strait.
While Nansen’s goal was the Pole, the purpose of the 50 million euro ($A69 million) MOSAiC expedition being undertaken in 2019 is purely scientific.
Fifty institutions from 14 countries, including the UK, US and Russia, are taking part in the project.
Knowledge gained from the expedition could transform our understanding of climate change and even help forecasters improve their predictions of weather in the UK, said Prof Rex, speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.
What happens in the Arctic, where climate change is occurring faster than anywhere else on earth, has a major impact on the weather in northern Europe and North America. Yet the forces at work are not well understood because gaining access to the region to carry out ground-based studies is so difficult.
“There are many, many really small scale processes which affect the climate on a regional and global scale in the Arctic which we can’t observe from a satellite,” said Prof Rex.