Student's 'amazing' 10 weeks trapped in ice at the North Pole

Elise Droste inset, article circle behind

Elise Droste spent nearly three months trapped in ice in the Arctic Circle as part of a once-in-a-lifetime expedition - Credit: University of East Anglia

A Norwich student spent almost three months trapped in ice for what has been regarded as one of the world's most ambitious Polar expeditions. 

While the rest of us were in Tier 2, 26-year-old PhD student Elise Droste from the University of East Anglia was at the North Pole aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern.

Elise Droste on the MOASiC expedition to the Arctic

Elise Droste on the MOASiC expedition to the Arctic - Credit: University of East Anglia

The goal of the trip - known as the MOSAiC expedition - was to take the closest-ever look at global warning by monitoring the Arctic all year round, rather than just during the accessible summer months.

Teams set off in October 2019, lodged the ship in the ice and drifted with it for a year. They even battled through the Polar winter - the first expedition to do so in history.

Researchers from 20 countries took turns to live on the ship. Ms Droste, who is originally from Belgium but lives in Norwich, joined in August 2020 as part of the "last leg" - and stayed until October before sailing back to Germany on the Polarstern.

The Polarstern was trapped in the ice for a year carrying out vital climate change research

The Polarstern was trapped in the ice for a year carrying out vital climate change research - Credit: University of East Anglia

She said: "My PhD is looking at the uptake of carbon dioxide by the polar oceans - but I had the perfect opportunity to extend it to the Arctic Ocean when I was offered a place on the expedition.

"It's really important when addressing climate change that we understand the processes of the Arctic all year round - otherwise the data can be limited and climate modelling inaccurate."

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When she was there, Ms Droste saw seals and Polar bears, as well as "amazing" natural phenomena such as "melt ponds". This is where circles form in the ice after being melted by the sun - forming a "striking contrast" between the deep blue of the water and the brilliant white of the ice.

The Polarstern was trapped in the ice for a year carrying out vital climate change research`

The Polarstern was trapped in the ice for a year carrying out vital climate change research - Credit: University of East Anglia

Elise joined researchers from 20 countries on the expedition

Elise joined researchers from 20 countries on the expedition - Credit: University of East Anglia

"The thought constantly in my head was that I was standing on 1m of frozen water but that there was 4km of ocean beneath", she said. "It made me feel so small.

"Once I saw a polar bear and a cub, which I couldn't quite believe. Though we retreated to the ship whenever they came near, they were really curious. They would sniff and bite our instruments on the ice."

Arctic polar bear

Polar bears often came to the ship and curiously sniffed the researchers' equipment - Credit: University of East Anglia

According to Ms Droste, while she hasn't yet watched 'The Terror' on BBC iPlayer, she can confirm her expedition was thankfully nowhere near as gruesome.

* MOSAiC stands for Multidisiplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate