Association of Polar Early Career Scientists


Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes on an Arctic expedition? I wondered this as I prepared for the 2019 MOSAiC school. What to bring, what I would miss, how would I find the crowded conditions on the ship? An expedition with the size and scope of MOSAiC requires many years of planning, and will yield many years’ worth of data. All of this work aside, how do scientists pass the time? What do our instruments look like? And most importantly, how do you survive for weeks without internet??? Read along to find out more behind the snapshots of the MOSAiC school in 52 seconds.

Crushed ice

September 26, 2019

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 3 Sept 26 1 credits to Rosalie McKayI woke up several times this night, I wasn’t used to the sounds of crushing ice on the side of the ship. It sounded like the entire hull was being passed through a can-opener. When morning arrived, I rushed outside to see what the ice looked like. It was beautiful. The ice creates a multitude of shapes, colors and textures; the variety of the scenery is really remarkable. Most of this day was spent outside, mesmerised by the ice and looking for sea life. We spotted a couple shy seals in the distance who quickly jumped into the water upon noticing the ship. 


Sea ice! (© Rosalie McKay)


 Here you can listen to the sounds of ice on the hull!

There were also a lot of opportunities to help out on deck, with instruments requiring preparation before deployment and moving equipment around to facilitate operations over the coming weeks. The early parts of the journey were used to plan, organise and prepare for the coming work on the ice. 

Arrived in style

September 27, 2019

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 4 Sept 27 1 credits to Rosalie McKay

For most of this leg of the expedition, there was a large distance between Polarstern and Akademik Fedorov. This meant that daily updates between the two ships occurred by radio, and any transport of people usually occurred via helicopter. Behind the scenes, the expedition leaders were deliberating heavily on decisions that would impact the entire expedition over the coming year. Any scientists, staff and students not involved directly with decision making were updated on proceedings at our daily general meetings or over the intercom for pressing matters. This day, Markus Rex arrived to have meetings with the leaders aboard Akademik Fedorov.

This helicopter trip meant that Matt Shupe and Allison Fong could come over from Polarstern to give lectures for the MOSAiC School. How often does a teacher have to rush out of the end of their lecture to catch their helicopter?

Markus Rex, Matt Shupe and Allison Fong board the German helicopter to return to Polarstern. The larger Russian helicopter is seen in the distance. The Russian aircraft was usually anchored to the heli deck when not in use, pilots had to move the helicopter so that the Polarstern crew could land on the deck (© Rosalie McKay).

In the thick of it

September 28, 2019

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 5 Sept 28 1 credits to Rosalie McKay

The first priority was to identify a suitable ice floe to moor the Polarstern to. The ice needed to be large enough to support many different sites, thick enough to support heavy equipment and be stable enough for the safety of people on the ice. The ice experts from AARI used satellite data to pinpoint possible floes, then the ships traveled to these floes to assess them. In order to check the thickness of one of these potential floes, Akademik Fedorov broke through the corner. The ice was disappointingly thin and rotten, and it was decided to move on and look at some other o

ptions. This was a frustrating and stressful time for everyone as the condition of the sea ice was worse than anticipated. Moral was low as finding good ice seemed more and more unlikely as the days went on. Happily, though, a few days later a much thicker floe was found.

 Buoys prepped and secured, ready for deployment as soon as a central ice floe was found (© Rosalie McKay).

Predicting the MOSAiC drift

September 29, 2019

Drift models are computer programs used to predict the movement of sea ice and ice bergs. During his lecture, Thomas Rackow discussed using drift models to predict the drift pattern of Polarstern. This is what led the expedition to the Arctic Ocean over northern Russia; models predicted this area would result in a drift pattern that would carry Polarstern across the Arctic Ocean and emerge somewhere in the Fram Strait the following year. The expedition follows in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen’s expedition aboard the Fram from 1893 to 1896.

Information about the expedition can be found at

It is also possible to back-track the origin of the ice floe ultimately selected to moor the Polarstern to for the expedition. A project was started amongst some students, Thomas and Michel Tsamados to try to determine the origin of the floe selected for the MOSAiC expedition, using a drift model and satellite images. They were able to track the floe back to August but were missing data from July to mid-August. This is where their efforts stopped. However, efforts to find the origin of the floe continued and resulted in a publication:

Harry Potter Marathon

October 21, 2019

Pooling our resources, a movie club was organized. Our “big screen” consisted of bed linens hung on the wall and we used the projector and portable speakers to create our private cinema. We made a list of all of the movies that participants had and generated a voting list to determine which films we would watch together. Harry Potter nights were very popular but we only had access to the first four movies. Lack of internet meant we weren’t able to download the remainder of the series! Even though I have seen all of the films, it felt incomplete to not finish the series. I had to watch the remaining movies during my travels home.

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 7 Oct 21 1 credits to Rosalie McKay

Getting comfortable for a movie (© Rosalie McKay).


Wake. Up.

September 30, 2019

The morning routine involved a daily wakeup call from the bridge. Everyone’s favourite Chief Mate, Grigory, made sure all expedition participants were up and ready. Or at least briefly up and then back to their dreams if they didn’t immediately get out of bed. The intercom system was the communication centre of the ship. Remember, there is no cell phone reception in the middle of the Arctic Ocean! Important notifications were given over the intercom, when someone was needed, they were paged on the system and radios were used for communication when on the ice.

You can listen to our wakeup call here!

Taped together

October 1, 2019

An army was needed to ready all of the equipment for deployment. There was lots of activity on the aft deck, forward hold and the dry lab. Teamwork helped to get all of the instruments tested, calibrated and arranged for deployment. Doing as much of the work as possible on the shelter of the ship was important to reduce the installation time on the ice, where conditions were more difficult and time ran short. Walking outside, you could always offer a helping hand. Even the simple act of holding wires for someone to tape together was of great help as the cold temperatures made fine motor work difficult. 

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 6 Oct 1 1 credits to Rosalie McKayRosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 6 Oct 1 2 credits to Rosalie McKay

Assembling and testing a CTDs so that they were ready for deployment as soon as a suitable ice floe was found and work could begin on the ice (© Rosalie McKay).

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 6 Oct 1 3 credits to Rosalie McKay 

Snow buoys at sunrise (© Rosalie McKay).

We need MOSAiC

October 2, 2019

“We need MOSAiC” explained Dorothea Bauch during her biogeochemistry lecture. The data obtained from MOSAiC will help to improve climate change models by gathering information on processes that have been difficult to study due to the remoteness of the Arctic. It also brought together many different discplines to study the system as a whole, rather than just bits and pieces of it. As the next generation of Arctic scientists, students of the MOSAiC School took part in lectures from experts in all of the core disciplines of the expedition: sea ice, ocean, biogeochemistry, ecology and atmosphere. The lecture series provided students an opportunity to learn outside of their normal area of focus, developing an appreciation for what others are studying, and to encourage collaboration in future work. Focus was also placed on media literacy and outreach. 

Interested in what was learned during the MOSAiC School? Fortunately, CIRES just published a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) at!

I would like to thank all of our wonderful teachers for their participation in the MOSAiC School (order by "appearance"):

Markus Rex, Anja Sommerfeld, Stanislav Ksenofonto, Shannon Hall, Christopher Cox, Jessie Creamean, Michel Tsamados, Tim Stanton, Jari Haapala, Marc Oggier, Steve Archer, Ying-Chih Fang, Matthew Shupe, Allison Fong, Thomas Rackow, Dorothea Bauch, Pauline Snoeijs Leijonmalin, Michael Angelopoulos, Sebastian Rokitta, Vera Schlindwein, Friederike Krüger, Anne Gold, Katie Gavenus, Daisy Dunne, Falk Ebert, Chelsea Harvey, Martha Henriques, Ravenna Koenig

They’re so cute!

October 3, 2019

Finally a floe for Polarstern to call home! After many ice surveys and discussions, it was decided to use a floe pinpointed a couple days before as the central floe to set up the MOSAiC site. Polarstern and Akademik Fedorov were moored together in order to exchange fuel, cargo and people before Polarstern proceeded to the selected floe. There, the Polarstern team began setting up the infrastructure – power lines, snowscooter tracks, planning the airplane runway and setting up the helicopter landing pad. Meanwhile, Akademik Fedorov proceeded to set up the Distributed Network – a series of scientific stations on floes all around the Polarstern. While all of this was going on, we had visitors: a very curious polar bear and her cub visited Polarstern.

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 7 Oct 3 1 credits to Jan Rohde

The ships were moored together in order to transfer fuel from Fedorov to Polarstern. This transfer was needed to provide Polarstern with enough power to operate over the coming months, as the next transfer would not occur until December (© Jan Rohde).

Overnight guests

October 4, 2019

For the second day in a row, the polar bear mother and cub visited. This time, they slept next to Akademik Fedorov and were around for the entire day. One of the fun things about being on a ship full of keen scientists, is that we’re all thrilled to experience nature; whether it’s staying up late to see the first sea ice, getting out of bed to look at bioluminescence or spending all day outside in the cold watching polar bears. We all thoroughly enjoyed watching the bears roam about and even play. However, it was a bit concerning that they were so brave, knowing that on-ice operations were beginning soon. As much as we loved seeing them from the safety of the ship, we hoped they would soon move on.

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 8 Oct 4 1 credits to Julika ZinkeRosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 8 Oct 4 2 credits to Julika Zinke

Polar bear mom and cub next to Akademik Fedorov (© Julika Zinke).

First day on the ice

October 5, 2019

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 9 Oct 5 2 credits to Rosalie McKay

Work began on the first Distributed Network site, named L1. These sites are designed to take different physical measurements of the ice, currents, meteorological conditions and GPS coordinates. This first site took the longest to set up, which I’m told is often the case. There was a lot of equipment to coordinate and many things going on at once. There was also a lot of patience required as we had to wait for the go ahead, tools, equipment or help needed for each step. The first step was for AARI to do a survey of the ice floe to make sure it was safe and determine where instruments should be set up. The gangway (ladder) was lowered to access the ice, it’s heavy and took 5 Russian crew members to position on the ice! Then the equipment was lowered to the ice by crane and transported by snowscooter to the setup site. Once the equipment was delivered, work could begin. It was a long day; the last groups left the ice in the dark at 17:30 and the debriefing meeting wasn’t held until 20:00. 

Positioning the gangway (© Rosalie McKay).

 Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 9 Oct 5 1 credits to Rosalie McKayRosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 9 Oct 5 3 credits to Mauro Hermann

Loading items on to the ice with a crane and finally working on the ice (© Rosalie McKay, Mauro Hermann).

Down in the hold

October 6, 2019

There was a small amount of work left to be done on L1 from the previous day. It was finished within an hour in the morning and site L1 was declared successfully completed! Lessons were learned on how to coordinate all of the people, equipment and how to order the operations. While traveling to the next L site (L2), a lot of work was needed to ready the equipment. The forward hold was accessed from a narrow metal ladder about 8 m down into the ship. You had to wear a harness and clip-in for safety so that you wouldn’t accidently slip and fall if the ship moved. Inside, there were several containers full of instruments. The equipment for the next deployment needed to be moved so that it would be ready to lift out with the crane at the next L site. 

Rosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 91 Oct 6 2 credits to Rosalie McKayRosalie McKay MOSAiC Ambassador Blog 91 Oct 6 1 credits to Rosalie McKay

Organizing equipment in the hold (© Rosalie McKay).

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