Scientists Are About To Deliberately Trap Themselves In Arctic Ice

As the Arctic begins to freeze over in the coming months, scientists from 17 nations will be right in the middle of it all, studying the impact of climate change.

The Arctic has always been blacked out to scientists in the dead of winter, when the water turns into sheets of white, but this year, researchers will be right in the thick of it all.

Dozens of people from the United States, China, Russia and other countries will board the German icebreaker RV Polarstern on a year-long voyage to study the impact of climate change on the Arctic and how it affects the rest of the world.

“So far we have always been locked out of that region and we lack even the basic observations of the climate processes in the central Arctic from winter,” expedition leader Markus Rex told the Associated Press.

"We are going to change that for the first time".

The ship will sail into the Arctic Ocean and be anchored to a thick piece of sea ice, where it will remain as the water surrounding it freezes over.

The German icebreaker RV Polarstern is about to set off on a year long voyage with scientists from 17 nations onboard. Photo: Photos/Frank Jordans

Temporary winter research camps will be set up on the ice, which will make it easier for scientists to manually perform tests that have never before been possible.

"We can do a lot with robotics and other things but in the end the visual, the manual observation and also the measurement, that’s still what we need,” said Marcel Nicolaus, a German sea ice physicist who will be part of the mission.

The experts specialise in a range of fields, including physics, chemistry and biology. Their work this winter, combined with data collected from satellites, is hoped to provide key climate insights.

With a price tag of US $158 million -- AU $224 million -- the mission is costly.

It's also dangerous.

Not only will the scientists have to handle temperatures below -50 degrees Celsius for an extended period of time, they will also be completely alone; the ice around them will be too thick for another icebreaker to come to the rescue should something go horribly wrong.

Photo: Photos/Frank Jordans

According to Rex, the icebreaker will further from civilisation than the International Space Station, which is in orbit about 400 to 500 kilometres high.

As a result, safety is taken very seriously. The ship has a fully equipped medical station while a perimeter fence will be set up -- complete with an alarm for approaching polar bears.

The scientists ultimately want a better understanding of the role the Arctic plays in the world's climate.

There is a basic understanding that the thick cold cap which ices over each year is regulating weather patterns and temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere, but science has yet to produce solid proof.

“We as scientists, I think, have the obligation to produce the robust scientific basis for political decisions,” Rex said.

The mission comes in the wake of the polar vortex which blasted the U.S. in January, with temperatures dropping to -46 degrees Celsius.

The record-breaking cold stretched from North Dakota to as far south as Alabama.

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It also follows the history-making heat wave which recently crippled Europe, and broke the record for the hottest June ever.

France reached 45.9 degrees Celsius while parts of Spain, Italy, Germany,  Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic recorded average five-day temperatures which were up to 10 degrees hotter than usual.