Four Months on Ice

When the holiday season rolls around this year, Dr. Jessie Creamean, research scientist at Colorado State University, will be aboard a Russian vessel returning her to land followed four months spent drifting through Arctic Sea ice.


Creamean is one of 600 researchers from 19 countries who will spend time on the RV Polarstern, a ship that set out from Norway in the fall of 2019 to drift through the Arctic Ocean toward the North Pole, trapped in ice. Those participating the world’s most ambitious Arctic science expedition to date will arrive and depart in several stages. The project is part of the multidisciplinary drifting observatory for the study of Arctic climate expedition, an ongoing 34 million dollar international effort.



The goal of the undertaking is to learn more about how what is happening in the Arctic is affecting global climate change. Formerly employed at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Creamean has been committed to the area of cloud research in the Arctic for five years. This will be her fifth journey to the Arctic, but the first when she will be far enough north to experience the polar night and be completely trapped in polar ice.


“Especially in the Arctic, clouds are like thermostats—they can reflect radiation from the sun or trap heat from the earth’s surface,” Creamean explained. If clouds cause sea ice to melt faster, it could lead to added sunlight exposure in the ocean and increased production of algae affecting local ecology.


Creamean will collect thousands of ice, snow, seawater and air samples which she will bring back to the lab in order to determine how biological processes from microbes like algae and bacteria in the water, ice and snow are affecting the atmospheric conditions that form clouds.  Arrangements have been made to ensure that the ice and snow samples arrive still frozen.


She will return to her lab at CSU with lots of samples and a whole array of memories including a holiday celebration aboard the Russian ship. There will be a party before the scientists return to their homes. “We were told to bring something nice to wear for a holiday celebration,” Creamean said.


Then the work will begin. Along with CSU colleagues senior research scientist Paul DeMott and distinguished professor Sonia Kreidenweis, both also aboard the vessel, Creamean will spend several months as part of a team analyzing data and asking questions about the behavior of airborne microbes in the Arctic in order to increase knowledge about how the decline in Arctic Sea ice may be linked to global climate change.

Research scientist Jessie Creamean holding a basket starfish found on an Arctic expedition

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