Video: Dreamer who Conceived of the Largest Arctic Science Expedition in History Now Racing to Save it

Covid-19 and rapid Arctic warming are pushing hundreds of scientists’ research about critical climate questions onto increasingly thin ice.

May 23, 2020
Expedition co-cruise leader Matt Shupe, left, and Marcel Nikolaus join MOSAiC expedition leader Markus Rex, right, in front of Polarstern icebreaker. Credit: Esther Horvath/Alfred-Wegener-Institut

Expedition co-cruise leader Matt Shupe, left, and Marcel Nikolaus join MOSAiC expedition leader Markus Rex, right, in front of Polarstern icebreaker on the ice floe that they planned the expedition to spend a year studying near the North Pole on October 9, 2019. Credit: Esther Horvath/Alfred-Wegener-Institut

When the largest Arctic expedition in history headed toward the North Pole last September, it was a dream come true for Matt Shupe. The atmospheric scientist had worked for more than a decade to freeze an icebreaker filled with scientists into the polar ice for a year.

Then, in March—six months into the expedition—the coronavirus triggered calamity. Shupe, who had returned from MOSAiC last winter and wasn't due to return to the ship until this summer, was desperately trying to get back, hoping to keep the coronavirus and the rapidly melting Arctic from turning his dream expedition into a frozen nightmare. 

While Shupe was sequestered in his home in Colorado, the MOSAiC expedition seemed as distant as a moonshot as it struggled with both the blessing and the curse of its isolation in the ice. Stranded on the Polarstern icebreaker, more than a hundred people worried about family members back home, threatened by the pandemic, while they were facing the possibility of being marooned until June. In the meantime, the ice around them was falling apart months earlier than expected.

This week, Shupe and more than 100 other scientists, specialists and sailors shipped out from Germany to keep the expedition afloat. InsideClimate News Senior Editor Michael Kodas wrote this week about the MOSAiC expedition and interviewed Shupe while the atmospheric scientist was quarantined in Germany prior to his departure on the mission.

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