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Monday, April 19, 2021

Climate change and the search for a new toolkit — for Arctic scientists

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FOR the first time in human history, climate scientists are reaching for a global physics toolbox: sophisticated instruments installed atop polar ice sheets, glaciers and on vast ocean-going ice-breakers.

On Thursday, the highest-tech Arctic science mission in modern history came to an end. A three-week expedition aboard the Russian icebreaker Mirabell completed its planned measurements of the Arctic Ocean. Data collected will be analyzed to construct climatic forecasts and may help inform some of the policies debated in Washington.

“When you look at the ocean, you always see it as being active and bringing change, and those kinds of extremes are the indicators of human activity,” said Evan Mills, who spent a year aboard the Mirabell studying climate change and studying Arctic sea-ice patterns. “As we make decisions about the future, we need to have a climate model that is going to predict the climate in the Arctic and beyond.”

The expedition was organized by NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It presented an enormous ecological challenge, especially to the mission’s famed hunter, Wang Xiaoyu, China’s first marine biologist to voyage in a polar expedition.

Wang had run virtually barefoot in the arctic — including on one expedition when his hand reached the rim of an iceberg. This time, however, he had brought a specialized tool kit. The task might have been overwhelming to a scientist, but Wang worked with his doctorate advisor, Zhang Guangju, with whom he would later win a China-U.S. Department of Defense Grand Prize for innovation.

“I love being underwater, being with my family, and being a family man,” Wang said on a recent expedition voyage onboard the Mirabell. “I was able to experience a lot of things and make a lot of friends in this expedition.”

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