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“The Loneliest Place Has Become the Most Social Place”

Expedition into the ice: PhD student Linda Thielke explains how to prepare yourself for an Arctic expedition


MOSAiC is the largest Arctic expedition of all time. Since September 2019, the Polarstern research vessel has been drifting in the Arctic sea ice and will remain there until October of this year. The Arctic is the epicenter of global warming. In order to gain a better understanding of climate change across the globe an international team of scientists from over 20 countries are carrying out several investigations. The expedition is being led by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). Linda Thielke will go on board in August. The 24-year-old has been a PhD student in the International Research Training Group ArcTrain since October 2019 and works in the Remote Sensing of Polar Regions working group at the Institute for Environmental Physics at the University of Bremen. She is carrying out research into heat exchange between the ocean, ice, and atmosphere and will return on the Polarstern in October. up2date. asked Linda Thielke about her travel preparations.

Taking part in such a big expedition means a lot of preparation. I’ll be away from home for three months in total. The expedition will take place in the middle of the Arctic ocean. That means that we’re far away from civilization on land and therefore only have limited medical care. Therefore, the first requirement for taking part is passing a comprehensive medical check.

Then the scientific preparation starts. On site, we will work with a great deal of varying equipment, which I only get to know theoretically beforehand. When we’re on the ice, everything needs to run smoothly. That is why it is important to know everything about the planned measurements. We still need to be flexible though. The ice and weather conditions can change at any time and if a polar bear decides to show up, we’re obviously not allowed on the ice.

In Quarantine to Prepare

Due to the current corona situation, we need to carry out extra preparations. These make the already exciting experience a little more exciting. We’ve now gone to a hotel for around two weeks to quarantine. We have been tested for COVID-19 there so that we can be sure that we won’t carry the virus onto the vessel. We will then be transported from quarantine to the Polarstern in the Arctic ice with an icebreaker.

Linda Thielke must quarantine for two weeks before the expedition can start.
© Linda Thielke

We need special clothing to ensure that we are well equipped for the Arctic conditions. This includes various thick and waterproof pieces of clothing for changing weather conditions during our stay. Snow goggles and sun cream are also in my bag. There will be polar days for several week – this means that the sun will shine for 24 hours a day.

Especially weatherproof clothing is needed when working in the Arctic.
© Linda Thielke

Our main focus is on taking as many measurements as possible. Of course, we will have some free time as well. That’s why I’ve packed sport stuff and books. It shouldn’t be forgotten that we have no internet. That means that we have to download all files required for work or free time beforehand.

The Loneliest Place Becomes the Most Social Place

One special thing is that we can be sure on the ship that we’re not infected with the corona virus and therefore do not need any social distancing rules. Usually, a ship in the Arctic is a rather lonely place but now we’re looking forward to a time without masks or contact restrictions. Maybe this Arctic expedition is the most social and carefree place at the moment. This expedition is a big adventure and also a great challenge. I am so excited about being part of it!

Follow the expedition online:




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