Polerstern
(Photo credit: Janek Uin / Wikipedia)

As we cope with the shut-down of non-digital social life while COVID-19 spreads inexorably around the world, some armchair adventure is surely welcome. So let’s travel far, far north and let ourselves be frozen into the winter ice to drift around the Arctic Ocean. We’ll go with MOSAiC. (Scientists love acronyms: this one means Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate. We’ll just call it Mosaic, an extraordinary international research effort exploring Arctic sea ice. ) It’ll be just the ticket.

Let’s start with this entertaining story about last summer’s training camp by Sarah Kaplan of the Washington Post. Her January update is here, and we can expect more.

Then we’ll join the ship with a vivid portrait by freelance science journalist Shannon Hall of what it’s like on the spot about a quarter of the way into the year-long expedition – and well into the dark, cold hazards of winter.

Hungry for more, we can visit the project’s excellent website to watch high-quality videos and read about expedition logistics, scientific questions, and data.

There, too, we’ll find entertaining daily updates by clicking at the bottom of every page on “Follow us live via Mosaic web app!

For a philosophical take on one aspect of this voyage, the way being in 24-hour darkness in the place where all time zones converge, we can read this blog in Scientific American by Katie Weeman, a Colorado-based member of the project’s larger team.

MOSAiC vesselScientists plan year locked in ice to unlock Arctic climate change data

Perhaps we’ll all find ourselves fascinated by Mosaic – and by the Arctic – and even curious about our own fascination. Then we should read Kathryn Schulz’s 2017 New Yorker discussion of Western culture’s imaginings of travel to this remote and extremely difficult place. Though Schulz does say, not quite correctly, “No tropical paradise has ever flourished at the far end of the world,” (sub-tropical conditions, complete with crocodilians and palms, did exist there long before humans could imagine them), she – like the Mosaic scientists and its armchair followers – know well what might happen in a high CO2 future.

Alas, we must also recognize that the coronavirus has affected the Mosaic project too, forcing some research flights to be canceled. (As of mid-March, the ship itself is still clear.)

What are the odds that this combination of stories spawns a novel or a movie? We can hardly wait.


This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.

Topics: Snow & Ice