MOSAiC Monday - February 10, 2020

Positive Feedbacks to Negative Impacts?

Earth's Energy Budget: Part 3

Arctic sea ice loss over time

Gif: Arctic sea ice loss over time; Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

Who doesn't like a little positive feedback from time to time? Being praised for a job well done by a teacher, friend, or boss can feel good. But it turns out that positive feedback isn't always a good thing. In fact, in the Arctic, positive feedbacks can lead to global problems.

If you haven't already, check out Earth's Energy Budget Part 1 and Part 2

A Curious Tropical ParadICE

Snowball earth

The earth has gone through a series of glacial periods in its lifetime when things were cooler and ice sheets crept down from the poles to cover more of the high latitude regions. However, between the late 1800s and the 1980s, geologists were finding evidence that seemed to show that 650 million or more years ago, glaciers covered landmasses from the poles to the tropics (near the equator)! Could it be that the earth was once covered completely in ice? Some geologists think so (and think it might have happened more than once), and refer to this phenomenon as 'Snowball Earth.' But how could this happen??

Ice-albedo feedback

In the 1960s, a Russian climatologist used a simple climate model to show that if ice sheets on Earth became extensive enough, they would reflect enough of the sun's energy (remember that ice has a fairly high albedo) to cause even further cooling on Earth, which would cause more ice sheets to form, which would lead to more cooling....This is called a positive feedback loop - specifically, this phenomenon is called the ice-albedo feedback. Figure credits: SPL 

Although there is debate in the scientific community about whether or not Earth was actually once a Snowball (some say it may have been more of a 'Slushball'), there is no dispute that the ice-albedo feedback happens and plays an important role in our planet's climate.

Learn more about Snowball Earth and what might have initiated it in the first place

The Arctic is Earth's Air Conditioner

Arctic albedo     Arctic albedo

Just because something is a 'positive' feedback doesn't mean it is necessarily a good thing. 'Positive' just refers to the fact that whatever changes are happening in a system continue to reinforce themselves. Just as the Arctic serves as 'Earth's air conditioner' when it is covered in ice and thus reflects more solar energy (heat) than it absorbs, a decline in Arctic sea ice decreases Earth's albedo and can have a significant impact on our global climate. 

10 minute clock icon Quick Bite: Melting Ice-Albedo Feedback

Sea ice decline over time graph

Could the opposite of a Snowball Earth happen? The sea ice extent in the Arctic has been in decline for at least several decades now, which means more dark ocean water is being exposed to the sun's energy more often. Think about what happens to the Arctic albedo as sea ice melts and more and more dark ocean water is exposed. Draw a figure like the one labeled 'Runaway Freeze' above that shows what feedbacks could occur when sea ice melts and what impact this could have on Arctic climate. Do you think these feedbacks in the Arctic could impact Earth's climate globally?

Learn more about positive and negative feedbacks in the Arctic climate system


NGSS - ESS NGSS - Eng NGSS - Engaging in argument NGSS Cause & Effect NGSS - Stability & Change

15 min clock icon In the Classroom: Climate is a System

Changes in albedo due to changes in sea ice is just one component of the complex Arctic and global climate systems. Atmospheric processes, clouds, ocean currents, and several other things play a role in these systems. MOSAiC expedition participants are members of various research teams that are looking at different components of the Arctic climate system. Figure credit: AWI

MOSAiC - Arctic climate components infographic

Teachers, divide your students up into 5 groups. Each group will represent one of the MOSAiC teams studying a particular aspect of the Arctic climate system: Team Sea Ice, Team Atmosphere, Team Ocean, Team Biogeochemistry, Team Ecosystems. Have each group read about their MOSAiC science focus area (links below). Then, clear a space in your classroom and have the teams stand in a circle. One team will start with a ball of yarn, and they will say one thing about what they are studying and why. If there is a connection between what they are studying and another team, then they will pass the ball of yarn to that team and cut the yarn so that the two teams are linked by the yarn. For example, Team Ecosystems could say that they are studying how melting sea ice could impact microbes that live under the ice. They would then connect themselves to Team Sea Ice via a strand of yarn. Continue around the circle a few more rounds. What do you notice? Are/how are the various teams connected? Do components of the Arctic climate system act in isolation from one another? Why or why not?

Figure credit: AWI

Team Atmosphere Reading    Team Sea Ice Reading    Team Ocean Reading    Team Biogeochemistry Reading    Team Ecosystems Reading


NGSS - ESS NGSS - LS NGSS - PS NGSS - Communicating info NGSS - Systems

askmosaic#askmosaic: Is the darkness nice and cracks in the ice

This week we're featuring two #askmosaic questions!
The first question was submitted by Gracie from Middleton Middle School: What is it like to be in total darkness? Do you get deprived?

Full moon over the ice

It is strange not to be able to see your environment without the help of artificial light. The ship’s spotlights, portable ones or our headlamps are necessary to work outside. Additionally we have technical devices like the ship’s radar or laser scans and satellite images helping us to get orientated. At one moment the moon did rise above the horizon again – even moonlight is welcome to give light and with the reflecting snow and ice it does quite well. But the darkness makes our world kind of narrow. Before we started the MOSAiC expedition, I expected that the polar night would affect my sleep demand in the way that I would need to sleep more than usual, but this is not really the case. Instead I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night being ready to start the day.

-Folke Mehrtens, Communications Officer at the Alfred Wegener Institute and for MOSAiC currently aboard the Polarstern

Photo (R): Folke Mehrtens took this photo showing how much a full moon illuminates the ice during 'polar night' in the Arctic

Crack in the ice

The second question was submitted by Lilly from Seneca Falls Middle School: How long can a crack get in the ice?

Cracks can be anything from a few meters (1 meter = about 3.28 feet) to a few hundred kilometers (1 km = about 0.6 miles). We had a few zigzagging cracks of 100 m (~109 yds) length across our ice floes that closed and healed quickly. However, about 2 km (~1.2 mi) to the east there is a very straight crack that is several kilometers long and continuously opens and closes, and the ice shifts along it.

-Christian Haas, Sea Ice Geophysicist from the Alfred Wegener Institute and Chief Scientist of MOSAiC Leg II

Photo (L): A long crack in the ice in front of the Polarstern. Photo credit: Esther Horvath/AWI

Submit your #askmosaic questions!

10-minute clock icon MOSAiC Weekly Tracking

Plot the Polarstern

Each week we will provide you with the latitude and longitude coordinates of the Polarstern so that your students can track its journey across the Arctic in your classroom.

Download the map to plot coordinates

Download a larger map of the Arctic for a bigger picture view of the expedition area

Location of the Polarstern
 Date  Latitude  Longitude
 September 16, 2019  69.68 N  18.99 E
 September 23, 2019  72.31 N  26.93 E
 September 30, 2019  85.12 N  138.05 E
 October 4, 2019**  85.08 N  134.43 E
 October 7, 2019  85.10 N  133.82 E
 October 14, 2019  84.85 N  135.03 E
 October 21, 2019  84.97 N  132.73 E
 October 28, 2019  85.47 N  127.07 E
 November 4, 2019  85.88 N  121.70 E
 November 11, 2019  85.82 N  116.00 E
 November 18, 2019  86.05 N  122.43 E
 November 25, 2019  85.85 N  121.35 E
 December 2, 2019  85.97 N  112.95 E
 December 9, 2019  86.25 N  121.40 E
 December 16, 2019  86.62 N  118.12 E
 December 23, 2019  86.63 N  113.20 E
 December 30, 2019  86.58 N  117.13 E
 January 6, 2020  87.10 N  115.10 E
 January 13, 2020  87.35 N  106.63 E
 January 20, 2020  87.42 N  97.77 E
 January 27, 2020  87.43 N  95.82 E
 February 3, 2020  87.42 N  93.65 E
 February 10, 2020  87.78 N  91.52 E

 **Day when MOSAiC reached the ice floe that the Polarstern will become frozen in and drift with for the next year.

Log MOSAiC Data 

What happens in the Arctic as the seasons change? Find out firsthand with real-time Arctic data, provided for you here each week. 

Keep track of Arctic conditions over the course of the expedition:

Download Data Logbook for Sept. 2019 - Dec. 2019

Download Data Logbook for Dec. 2019 - Mar. 2020

 Date  Length of day (hrs)  Air temperature (deg C) at location of Polarstern  Arctic Sea Ice Extent (million km2)
 September 16, 2019  13.25  High: 10   Low: 4.4  3.9
 September 23, 2019  12.35  High: 6     Low: -1  4.1
 September 30, 2019  9.1  -4.7  4.4
 October 4, 2019**  6.27  -13.0  4.5
 October 7, 2019  3.05  -8.2  4.6
 October 14, 2019  0  -14.7  4.8
 October 21, 2019  0  -12.8  5.4
 October 28, 2019  0  -18.3  6.8
 November 4, 2019  0  -18.9  8.0
 November 11, 2019  0  -25.5  8.7
 November 18, 2019  0  -10.7  9.3
 November 25, 2019  0  -18.4  10.0
 December 2, 2019  0  -26.6  10.4
 December 9, 2019  0  -23.1  11.2
 December 16, 2019  0  -19.2  11.8
 December 23, 2019  0  -26.9   12.2
 December 30, 2019  0  -26.4   12.6
 January 6, 2020  0  -28.0  13.0
 January 13, 2020  0  -30.7  13.1
 January 20, 2020  0  -27.1  13.6
 January 27, 2020  0  -22.5  13.8
 February 3, 2020  0  -28.8  14.1
 February 10, 2020  0  -26.2  14.5

*Note: We expect data to fall within the following ranges: Length of day, 0-24 hours; Temperature, -40 to 14 degrees C; Sea ice extent, 3-15 million km2

**Day when MOSAiC reached the ice floe that the Polarstern will become frozen in and drift with for the next year.

Contribute to the Museum of MOSAiC Art (MoMOA)

polar bear drawing

Do you like to draw, paint, sculpt, take photos, build models, knit, sew, write poetry, or engage in any other kind of creative endeavor? We want you to send us photos or scans of your MOSAiC-themed artwork! You can use any artistic medium you like and submit as many creations as you wish to the following categories:

  • How the Arctic affects you
  • Arctic exploration
  • People of the Arctic
  • MOSAiC science
  • Arctic flora and fauna
  • Arctic land and seascapes
  • Life on an Arctic icebreaker
  • Abstract Arctic
  • Other 

We'll be showcasing your artwork in the new virtual Museum of MOSAiC Art (MoMOA). Submit photos or scans of your artwork using the submission form below (open to all ages)!


Submit your artwork

Check out the Museum of MOSAiC Art


Questions? Email us with the subject line "MOSAiC Art":

Opportunities for Students and Educators


MOSAiC + Reach the World

Exciting news! The MOSAiC education & outreach team has partnered with Reach the World to connect more classrooms to the MOSAiC expedition. Over the coming months, Reach the World will share MOSAiC team members' incredible stories about the expedition, its research, and the everyday challenges of life in the Arctic. MOSAiC team members will also participate in video calls with classrooms to talk more about their experiences directly with students.

Follow the MOSAiC expedition with Reach the World

Watch the classroom video call with MOSAiC Team Members Ryleigh Moore and Dave Costa from February 5th 

Sign up to participate in the next classroom call on Feb. 20th with MOSAiC Sea Ice Team member Madison Smith 


Arctic Plant Phenology Learning through Engaged Science (APPLES) Workshop for Teachers

Teachers can apply to spend 3 days (June 29-July 1) at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado engaging and collaborating with leading polar research scientists and science educators to learn about the seasonal dynamics of plants and animals in the Arctic. Workshop participants will engage in inquiry-based activities that support the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Participating teachers will receive a $300 stipend -- the workshop is limited to 10 participants, so register early! Deadline to apply is February 24th.

Register for the APPLES Workshop for Teachers

Learn more about the APPLES project

NGSS icon MOSAiC Monday and the NGSS

What do those funny symbols below some engagements mean?

Good news for educators in the U.S. teaching with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) or similar! We will now be tagging MOSAiC Monday engagements with the NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea subject(s), Science and Engineering Practice(s), and Crosscutting Concept(s) that they most closely connect to. Look for these symbols listed below each engagement: 

Disciplinary Core Idea Subjects
Science and Engineering Practices (adopted from the San Diego County Office of Education Science Resource Center)
Crosscutting Concepts (adopted from the San Diego County Office of Education Science Resource Center)

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Next Week
  • Monthly expedition update
  • Check in with the Polarstern