Year-long expedition set for Arctic centre

German icebreaker Polarstern will lead a yearlong journey through the ice into the central Arctic.
German icebreaker Polarstern will lead a yearlong journey through the ice into the central Arctic.

Scientists from more than a dozen nations are preparing to launch the biggest and most complex research expedition ever attempted in the central Arctic.

About 100 researchers will set sail on Friday from Tromsoe, Norway, aboard a German icebreaker in an effort to understand how climate change is affecting the Arctic and regions beyond.

The aim is to anchor the RV Polarstern to a large ice floe and slowly drift with the current as the sea freezes around the vessel and scientists conduct experiments throughout the entire Arctic year - including the pitch-black winter months.

The 140-million-euro ($A232 million) expedition is being spearheaded by Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute but also involves scientists from 19 countries including the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

As the days get shorter and the sea freezes around it, the Polarstern will slowly drift off on its own toward the North Pole while rotating teams of 100 scientists spend two months each conducting research on the ice.

Stefanie Arndt, a sea ice physicist who will join the mission in mid-February, said the unique advantage of this expedition compared with others is the fact that researchers will be able to observe processes in the Arctic across an entire cycle of seasons.

"What's particularly interesting is the transition from winter to spring," she said, a time when the ice is normally too thick for ships to reach the Central Arctic.

Recording changes in the density, size and type of snow will help scientists better understand the flows of energy in the Arctic.

Australian Associated Press