A German icebreaker carrying scientists on a year-long international expedition in the High Arctic has reached the North Pole, after making an unplanned detour because of lighter-than-usual sea ice conditions.
Expedition leader Markus Rex said Wednesday the RV Polarstern was able to reach the geographic North Pole because of large openings in sea ice that would normally make shipping in the region above Greenland too difficult.
"We made fast progress in a few days," Rex told The Associated Press. "It's breathtaking — at time we had open water as far as the eye could see."
The region above northern Greenland is usually covered in thick sea ice that's sometimes built up over several years, he said. But this year, the Polarstern was able to make it from the ice edge in the Fram Strait to the pole in less than a week.
The mission sailed from the German port of Bremerhaven last September, anchored to an ice floe and conducted numerous experiments to study the impact of global warming on the Arctic until the summer heat broke apart the ice cover.
After passing the pole, the Polarstern will anchor to a new floe and observe the start of the freezing process that will see the Arctic covered in a new mantle of sea ice.
The 100 crew and scientists will return to Germany on Oct. 12.
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