Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

MOSAiC expedition in Arctic

The MOSAiC expedition's Eco and Ocean team near a lead next to ROV sampling. (Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut /Lianna Nixon/CC-BY 4.0) 

Scientist Who Spent Year at 'Epicenter' of Climate Crisis Warns World May Already Have Hit Arctic 'Tipping Point'

'Urgent' action is needed, atmospheric scientist Markus Rex said.

Andrea Germanos

The atmospheric scientist that led a major year-long Arctic research expedition said Tuesday that the world may have already hit one of the so-called climate "tipping points."

"The disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic is one of the first landmines in this minefield, one of the tipping points that we set off first when we push warming too far," said Markus Rex of the Alfred Wegener Institute, reports Agence France-Presse.

"And one can essentially ask if we haven't already stepped on this mine and already set off the beginning of the explosion," he added.

"If we keep going as we are then the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within a few decades and the world I just described will no longer exist."

"During the Mosaic expedition, the ice in the spring of 2020 receded more quickly than ever before on record," Rex said. "The expansion of the ice was only about half as large in the summer than decades ago and only about half as thick as during the times of [Norwegian explorer Fridtjof] Nansen and his expedition with Fram, a wooden sailboat, almost 130 years ago."

The time remaining to rein in the climate crisis and avert a scenario of an ice-free Arctic in the summer is limited, Rex said.

"It's urgent," he told DW.  "We probably still have a short, brief time window to save the summer Arctic sea ice."

Barring such action, Rex warned of "a cascade of further tipping pints in the climate system that could let our climate drift away from the current state it has."

"I think we still have that window, but we need to act quickly now," he stressed. "We need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases drastically, and we need to do that during the next decade." He also called for a mid-century goal "at the latest" to be climate neutral.

The international, multidisciplinary team Rex led was comprised of hundreds of scientists representing over a dozen countries. The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) team set sail on the German research vessel Polarstern in September of 2019 to gather data from what Rex called "the epicenter of global climate change" and study "areas that are beyond anything we've ever seen before." The team returned in October last year with a trove of data including 1,000 ice samples.

As the expedition website explains:

The goal of the MOSAiC expedition was to take the closest look ever at the Arctic as the epicenter of global warming and to gain fundamental insights that are key to better understand global climate change. Hundreds of researchers from 20 countries were involved in this exceptional endeavor. Following in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen's ground-breaking expedition with his wooden sailing ship Fram in 1893-1896, the MOSAiC expedition brought a modern research icebreaker close to the north pole for a full year including for the first time in polar winter. The data gathered will be used by scientists around the globe to take climate research to a completely new level.

At a press conference in October when the expedition came to a close, Rex offered a grim assessment of the Arctic.

"This world is threatened," he said, adding that the "ice is dying."

"If we keep going as we are then the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within a few decades and the world I just described will no longer exist."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Poll: Overwhelming Majority of US Voters Want Robust Regulation of Tech Companies

"When it comes to Big Tech's monopoly power and surveillance business model, the public is unified: They want action. They want to see the Big Tech companies broken up and users' privacy protected."

Brett Wilkins ·


228 Republicans Blasted for Brief Urging Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v. Wade

"Every single politician who signed this amicus brief is actively working to strip away our fundamental freedoms and endanger pregnant people and families across the country."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Historic Victory': Bayer to End US Residential Sales of Glyphosate-Based Herbicides

"As agricultural, large-scale use of this toxic pesticide continues, our farmworkers remain at risk. It's time for EPA to act and ban glyphosate for all uses."

Kenny Stancil ·


73 Major Corporations Paid Just 5.3% Federal Tax Rate Between 2018 and 2020: Report

Thirty-nine other companies paid no federal corporate tax during the three-year period, in which they collectively reaped over $120 billion in profits.

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Asks Congress to Act to Prevent Evictions—Just 3 Days Before Moratorium Expires

"These calls should have come weeks ago, not 72 hours before the moratorium expires."

Jake Johnson ·