A Long Expedition Always Enriches Life - Interview with MOSAiC Expedition Leader Markus Rex

The YOPP-endorsed Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition starts this fall when Polarstern leaves for the central Arctic to drift an entire year with the sea ice. MOSAiC has played a key role for the  Polar Prediction Project from the early start of MOSAiC planning. The unique comprehensive data sets which are expected from this huge overwintering field campaign will substantially contribute to improving polar predictive capabilities. We spoke with Markus Rex from the Alfred Wegener Institute who leads the expedition.

Prof. Rex, as the expedition head of this unique Arctic ice drift experiment – how does your current daily work look like?
It’s busy and any day is different! We still have to deal with lots of things that need to be in place before we will leave Tromsø on 20th September. And I have to do all my teaching and hold many exams for the University before I leave for such a long time.

From a scale from 0 to 10, how excited are you, and what is it that keeps you awake at night the most just few weeks before the start of MOSAiC?
15! I am really looking forward to get started now. Fortunately I have a very robust sleep and it’s not easy to keep me awake during night. But of course we need to make sure everyone of the overall about six hundred people that we will have in the field during the expedition returns safely and that is what concerns me most besides organizing the great science, that we will be able to do. 

Which legs will you yourself be on board Polarstern?
I will be on board for about seven months during legs 1 (three months), 4 (two months), and 6 (two months). Including the travel time on the partner icebreakers I will be away for almost nine months.

What will be your duty when being on board?
While on board I will organize the daily routine, making sure everybody is safe during the daily work on the dynamic sea-ice surface and making sure all groups have their equal and fair share of the vessel’s resources.

So partly you will also coordinate MOSAiC from your office at the Alfred Wegener Institute Potsdam. How will this look alike?
While I am not on board I will stay in very close communication with the team on board.

When do you consider MOSAiC a successful campaign?
When all return safely and we reach our scientific goals!

What is most challenging for the MOSAiC expedition but also for you as the leader of the campaign?
The logistics of this massive endeavour! We need to operate, support and resupply a modern research ice breaker frozen into the Central Arctic sea ice for more than a year. This has never been done before.Besides the challenging logistics, the interdisciplinarity of the team is a real highlight of MOSAiC. But it also is a challenge. The different scientific communities had to learn to communicate with each other efficiently - a fascinating process, which at time was not easy but overall was a tremendous success already now.

How does MOSAiC contribute to the goals of the Year of Polar Prediction? What are the benefits of MOSAiC to be linked to YOPP?
Both projects strive to better understand the Arctic climate system – YOPP with a focus on weather forecast and MOSAiC with a focus on climate processes and their representation in global climate models. But there is no clear distinction between these areas and both projects benefit from each other immensely. 

How many nations and partners are involved with MOSAiC? Who is supporting MOSAiC in respect of financial resources?
We have about seventy institutional partners from 19 countries. All contribute to the funding of MOSAiC and 17 nations have persons on board and directly contribute to the logistical costs of the expedition. About half of the overall resources come from Germany’s Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) mostly via the Helmholtz Association.

Will something have changed for you personally in a year from now?
Likely... a long expedition always enriches the life of everybody who was part of it and has a lasting effect. I still have good friends who I met on my first three-months long Antarctic expedition back in 1994. But ask me again, in one year from now!

How can the polar prediction community follow MOSAiC over the year?
Check out our Website at https://www.mosaic-expedition.org, our Progressive Web App with daily updates at https://follow.mosaic-expedition.org or follow us on Instagram or Twitter. There are plenty of options to stay connected to MOSAiC!