Ice in the Arctic is often twice as thick as expected, report surprised scientists who returned last week from a major scientific expedition. The scientists - a 20-member contingent from Canada, the U.S., Germany, and Italy - spent one month exploring the North Pole as well as never-before measured regions of the Arctic. Among their findings: Rather than finding newly formed ice to be two metres thick, "we measured ice thickness up to four metres," stated a spokesperson for the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research of the Helmholtz Association, Germany's largest scientific organization.

The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the six research organizations involved in the month-long expedition, called Pan-Arctic Measurements and Arctic Climate Model Inter Comparison Project. The other five include three from Canada (Environment Canada, University of Alberta, York University) one from the U.S. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and one from Italy (Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

The path-breaking project broke new ground by employing the Polar 5, a fixed-wing aircraft, rather than a helicopter with its more limited range. The Polar 5 not only landed in the Arctic ice, it towed a device called EM-Bird on an 80 metre-long rope 20 metres above the ice surface. The EM-Bird conducts electromagnetic (EM) induction sounding for ice thickness measurements.

The thickest ice that the expedition found was at Ellesmere Iceland, where thicknesses often exceeded 15 metres.

For images of the Polar 5 and the EM-Bird, visit: (here and here)