In late November, I began a three-week stay on the CCGS Amundsen, a Canadian Coast Guard ice-breaker and scientific research vessel that is spending 15 months in the Arctic. This expedition will be the first ever to spend the winter moving through sea ice north of the Arctic Circle — and at present, I am the only reporter on board. The logistics of such an expedition are extremely difficult. But we are here now because it is so important to predict the effects of climate change in the Arctic.

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Photos© Elizabeth Grossman

As I write, the ship is grinding forward. The sound of breaking ice roars just beyond the porthole of my compact little berth on the lowest deck in the bow of the ship. It’s like being in the scoop of a snowplow.

Ten international science teams rotating in groups of about 20 — altogether over 200 scientists from 15 different countries — are taking part in this expedition, making it the largest International Polar Year project in the world.

Named for the place where the central sea-ice pack moves away from the more stationary coastal ice — an area of the polar marine environment especially sensitive to environmental changes — this expedition is called the Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study. Early tomorrow, well before the season’s short twilit day begins, the scientists on board will begin the day’s work, deploying equipment to sample ice, air, and water. What they learn will yield vital clues to understanding how climate change is affecting the Arctic environment. This polar region is changing drastically, say scientists working on board the Amundsen — undergoing transformations that may well be harbingers of what’s to come farther south.