Russian icebreaker leaves Tromsø to supply ice-locked German research ship

The German icebreaker and research vessel Polarstern embarked on an Arctic expedition in September 2019 with the goal to become ice-solid and drift with it. The ship is pictured at shore in Tromso, Norway, on September 18, 2019. (RUNE STOLTZ BERTINUSSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
The «Kapitan Dranitsyn» is bringing equipment, supplies and 95 researchers to the «Polarstern» as part of great international research expedition MOSAiC.

The 129 meter long Russian icebreaker on 27th November set out from Tromsø, Norway, with course for icy waters near the North Pole. It is expected to arrive to the site of the «Polarstern» by mid-December.

On board the «Kapitan Dranitsyn» are loads of research equipment, supplies, as well as 95 researchers that are to swap places with the people currently onboard the «Polarstern».

The Russian ship has recently undergone a major upgrade that includes the installment of new navigation equipment, Russian port management company Rosmorport informs. The sailing to the «Polarstern» and back to Tromsø is expected to last about six weeks. It is the first of the ship’s two visits to the «Polarstern» in the course of the MOSAiC.

At the helm of the ship is Captain Aleksandr Yerpulev, the sailor with more than 35 years of experience from a number of complicated Arctic icebreaker voyages.

Could help Børge Ousland

As the «Kapitan Dranitsyn» sails through the Barents Sea a dramatic situation is unfolding with another Arctic expedition. On 82 degrees north in waters north of Svalbard, explorers Berge Ousland and Mike Horn are struggling to make their way back from the North Pole.

Potentially, the «Kapitan Dranitsyn» could come to the rescue of the two explorers should their situation get critical. Norwegian research ship «Lance» is in the area to assist the two men, but this morning got stuck in the ice, VG reported.

View this post on Instagram

Expedition Update 36: Another couple of intense days on the ice. The temperatures are dropping day by day and have now reached as low as -40 C. Extra reason for us to wrap up this expedition and head back home. The positive drift has slowed down but the winds from the north are still helping us progress a couple kilometres a day, which at this stage is extremely helpful. Right now we have two different options to finish this expedition: 1. Get down south as quickly as possible with the food that we have left if we want to fulfil our hopes of being picked up by boat as we had originally planned. 2. If we do not make sufficient progress, a helicopter will have to be called in…but right now, we are ruling out this option in order to fully focus our remaining energy on the final sprint that is required to pass the finish line. It is almost as if @BorgeOusland and I have subconsciously been saving some extra energy just in case we found ourselves in the situation we currently find ourselves in. Just one week ago, we never even imagined we would be making 30km progress in a day during our last week. The body is full of surprises, when you think you have reached your limits, turns out something inside you makes you push them further…and even further! One thing is sure, we want to leave the arctic the way we arrived, that is by boat. But we must also make sure to take into account the risks that this endeavour involves…due to the cold temperatures, we spend a lot of time checking the conditions of our frostbites. As soon as we think we are losing sensation in our extremities, we stop, set up the tent and warm ourselves up until we are ready to head out again. As a result, we have decided to increase the number of walking hours per day just to give ourselves more time to warm up, while making the necessary progress to reach our goal (82 degrees north) which we hope to achieve before our food runs out. Now, we currently find ourselves at 83deg41’, which means we still need to cover over 150km to make it to a position where the boat has its best chances of picking us up. One more week of expedition to go, the race against time officially begins…wish us luck!

A post shared by Mike Horn (@mikehornexplorer) on


On board the «Polarstern» are more than 120 people, including several teams of researchers that have been preparing for the voyage for several years. It is the most comprehensive Arctic expedition ever, with a total budget of more than €140 million.

The German research vessel is now located at about 86 degrees North.

The ship, a German-built icebreaker operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), in early October this year sailed deep into the ice and has subsequently drifted with the ice.

Markus Rex is leading scientist at the MOSAiC. (Atle Staalesen / The Independent Barents Observer)

In the course of the expedition, up to 600 experts will be on board the vessel, and be exchanged in phases. In addition, around 300 people will work in the background to make the expedition possible.

Representatives of 19 countries take part in the MOSAiC.

Four icebreakers from Russia, Sweden and China will assist the «Polarstern» in the course of the year. Among them will the new Chinese icebreaker «Xue Long 2». In spring 2020, a landing strip will be built on the Arctic ice, to serve German research aircrafts Polar 5 and Polar 6.

The MOSAiC will contribute to a quantum leap in our understanding of the coupled Arctic climate system and its representation in global climate models, lead scientist Markus Rex said in a presentation in May 2019.

Related stories from around the North:

Antarctica: Could snow cannons in Antarctica help avert catastrophic sea level rise?, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: We’ll see an ‘ice-free’ Arctic this century, says latest research, CBC News

Finland: Finnish EU presidency to work on stronger Arctic policy, climate change mitigation, Yle News

Greenland: Documentary will show climate change through eyes of pioneering scientist, Mia Bennett – Blog

Iceland: Geoengineering climate fixes popular at Arctic Circle assembly, Mia Bennett – Blog

Norway: Twin science projects seek to understand impacts of Arctic climate change, Radio Canada International

Russia: Warmest October ever on Russia’s Arctic islands, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Over 11,000 scientists sign statement warning of climate emergency, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska Federation of Natives declares climate emergency, Alaska Public Media

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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