Nieuws - 3 april 2020

Researchers to remain on the North Pole due to corona

Tessa Louwerens

A new team to relieve the current researchers on the Polarstern was due to arrive in April. Now, this will likely not happen until June. Researcher Serdar Sakinan of Wageningen Marine Research is on board studying the life of zooplankton and fish below the marine ice.

‘We were supposed to return this week,’ Sakinan says. ‘But that has been delayed.’ Due to the travel restrictions imposed by various European countries, especially Norway, new scientists are unable to reach the Polarstern. The original plan was to take the new team to Spitsbergen by plane, where they were to board a ship for the remainder of the journey. But the island has been locked down due to the pandemic. Tromsø, the alternative location for departure, is also unavailable. Thus, the expedition management has decided to postpone the replacement and have the current team remain on board. 

Meanwhile, the research continues as usual. ‘Occasionally, we are faced with unstable conditions in the ice, and it breaks’, Sakinan explains in an email. ‘The ship has been parked and fastened to the ice. But sometimes, gusts of wind cause us to drift off, which makes the research more challenging to carry out. Furthermore, we are working in temperatures as low as minus forty degrees Celcius. Despite these challenges and the added uncertainties due to corona, we move forward with our research.’

Through Twitter and their website, the organisation announces that the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which carries supplies and is set to depart on 20 May, will reach the Polarstern in June. For the current team, this means they will be relieved six weeks later than planned.

‘It can be disappointing for the researchers who are eager to return home’, Tammo Bult, Wageningen Marine Research director, states. ‘However, we will have to deal with the current situation as best we can, and we support the expedition management’s decision. They are the ones best able to make the call.’