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Journey into the Arctic

  • Permafrost is soil and sediment that remains continually frozen. About 24 % of the exposed land surface of the Northern Hemisphere is covered by the permafrost; this includes areas of Siberia, Canada, Greenland and Svalbard, an archipelago situated between the north of Norway and the North Pole, pictured here during the month of September. Beneath the frozen ground, vast amounts of carbon are stored in the form of frozen organic matter. Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), 2006
  • Professor Guido Grosse of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Germany, the coordinator of the EU-funded PETA-CARB project that is studying the impacts of a warming Arctic on the permafrost, leads his research team on a frozen river of the Alaska North Slope in the Arctic. The cliff shows thick permafrost sediments, ice wedges, and ancient soils. Image courtesy of Guido Grosse
  • The upper layer of the permafrost thaws every summer. In recent years, the rate of thaw of the permafrost has been accelerating. Of particular concern is the release of large carbon deposits stored beneath the frozen ground. The release of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) could amplify the effects of global warming. This is a concern pointed out by scientists such as Prof. Grosse, examining here a large sinkhole that was formed due to the rapid melt of ground ice during the Arctic summer on the Seward Peni
  • Snow covered mountains on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, were the backdrop to the AWI’s Polar Airborne Measurements and Arctic Regional Climate Model Simulation Project (PAMARCMiP) campaign in 2012. The AWI’s yearly PAMARCMiP campaigns use long-range aircraft to record pan-Arctic observations during the spring. The 2012 study assessed recent and ongoing changes in meteorology, air quality, and sea ice thickness. Photo: Stefan Hendricks, AWI
  • The AWI’s 2012 PAMARCMiP campaign also captured this glacier tongue in Kongsfjorden, Spitsbergen. Ice tongues emerge when a glacier ice stream flows rapidly – relative to surrounding ice – into the sea or a lake. Photo: Stefan Hendricks, AWI
  • Broken, thin sea ice covers the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. Photo: Stefan Hendricks: AWI, PAMARCMiP campaign, 2012
  • The Polarstern, a research vessel of the AWI, was specially designed for working in the polar seas and is currently one of the most sophisticated polar research vessels in the world. It has contributed to EU-funded research projects such as HERMIONE, HYPOX, ESONET, EMSO, and to the AWI programme PACES. One of its most recent expeditions, ARK-XXVII, took place during the 2012 Arctic sea ice minimum. During the expedition, the Polarstern was also anchored at an ice flow. Since the ship was first commissioned
  • Polarstern researchers take water samples from the melting pools, the ice itself and the water beneath. They analyse all the samples for plants, animals and microorganisms. On this expedition, the researchers discovered a surprising amount of algae in the pools on the sea ice. The long-lived algae provide information to scientists on recent changes to the sea ice cover. Photo: Christiane Uhlig, AWI
  • Deep sea researchers find starfish, sea cucumbers, crabs and many other animals in the mud. Photo: Antje Boetius, AWI
  • Sea cucumbers feeding on algae. Photo: Antje Boetius, AWI
  • Ice cover in the Central Arctic Ocean is permeated by areas of open water and melting pools that the Polarstern is crossing. Photo: Stefan Hendricks, AWI
  • The expedition also took researchers below the ice cover. The scale of the deformed ice is obvious thanks to the one-metre-long guidance marker. Photo: ROV Ronia, Sea Ice Physics Section, AWI
  • The Northern Lights (also known as the aurora borealis) over Norway. Senior NASA scientists recently forecast that the current phase of solar maximum activity would reach a peak in December 2013 – producing the best conditions for seeing the Northern Lights. This is set to continue into the winters of 2014 and 2015. Image courtesy of the European Space Agency