Excellent Research

Meltwater pools on the Arctic Ocean. The polar regions and oceans are central drivers of climate-related processes. (Photo: Stefan Hendricks, Alfred-Wegener-Institut)

Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth’s surface. Characterised by their fascinating diversity, they hold resources essential to humanity’s survival. Not only do oceans and their ecosystems fulfil a key role in the control of global environmental processes; they are also subject to anthropogenic use. Though the strains on them are especially apparent in coastal regions and shelf seas, where densely settled cities and claims to usage rights are often concentrated, the vast and unpopulated regions in the Arctic and Antarctic are also transforming. Not only are the polar regions highly sensitive to climatic changes, they themselves are one of the main factors shaping the development of the global climate.

As an internationally respected centre of expertise on polar and marine research, the Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the very few scientific institutions in the world that are equally active in the Arctic and Antarctic. It coordinates German polar research efforts, while also conducting research in the North Sea and adjacent coastal regions in Germany. Combining innovative approaches, outstanding research infrastructure and years of expertise, the Alfred Wegener Institute explores nearly all aspects of the Earth system – from the atmosphere to the ocean floor. In this regard, initiatives to better grasp the climate-related processes on our planet have increasingly taken centre stage.

Five Facts

  • The AWI was named after the German polar explorer who discovered the continental drift, Alfred Wegener
  • The Institute was first launched in 1980 with only a handful of employees - today that number has risen to more than a thousand
  • The AWI is a foundation under public law and member of the Helmholtz Association -  the largest scientific organisation in Germany
  • Though based in Bremerhaven, we also operate facilities in Potsdam, on Helgoland and in List on the isle of Sylt
  • As a family-friendly institute, the AWI constantly strives to be an attractive employer for candidates from around the globe
Valuable time series data: AWI researcher Jölund Asseng checks the “Solar Tracker” at Neumayer Station III’s meteorological observatory. (Photo: Thomas Steuer)
Outstanding logistics: the research aircraft Polar 5 during an expedition in the Arctic. (Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Stefan Hendricks)
Cutting-edge lab equipment: AWI researcher Dr Sebastian Rokitta measures gas exchange in microalgae with the help of a membrane-induction mass spectrometer (MIMS). (Photo: Peter Duddek)

High-Performance Infrastructure

Anyone seeking to understand the climate of tomorrow must coevally analyse current changes, be familiar with the planet’s climate history, and be able to distinguish between short-term fluctuations and long-term trends. The AWI’s researchers operate various observatories that gather measurement data over longer timeframes. They research the atmosphere, ice, oceans and coasts. They explore the deep seas, the glaciers and the permafrost soils of the polar regions first-hand. And they analyse data from climate archives like sediment and ice core samples.

The Institute’s work is characterised by a high degree of international and interdisciplinary collaboration: experts from the bio-, geo- and climate sciences work closely together at the AWI. Field research under extreme conditions is just as much a part of the Institute’s day-to-day work as are analyses using cutting-edge laboratory equipment and high-performance supercomputers. Having recognised that polar and marine research often poses serious logistical challenges, the AWI also maintains an excellent infrastructure, allowing it to make resources available for the national and international research communities – including several research ships, aircraft, and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Society and climate change: what does the future hold in store? AWI researchers have assumed leading roles in the preparation of IPCC Assessment Reports. (Photo: Stefan Hendricks)
Diatomee Autofelge
Knowledge and technology transfer. AWI researchers have developed a prototype ultra-light automotive wheel rim based on the structure of a diatom. (Photo: Christian Hamm)
AWI biologist Christian Buschbaum (right) is explaining an field experiment to POGO students Essowe Panassa (2nd f.r.), Subrata Sarker (2nd f.l.) and Widya Ratmaya (l.).
Education and support for the next generation. AWI biologist Dr Christian Buschbaum (on the right) teaching students of the “NF-POGO Centre of Excellence in Observational Oceanography”. (Photo: Tina Wagner)

Research for Society

Serving in an advisory function for political decision-makers and society at large is also an important aim. Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute have participated in the preparation of several of the IPCC’s annual Assessment Reports – also assuming leading positions. The administrative office of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) is affiliated with the AWI. We were actively involved in the development of an early-warning system for tsunamis in Indonesia. Further, the Institute coordinates the Helmholtz Initiative for research on regional climate change (REKLIM) and is a member of the Helmholtz Earth System Knowledge Platform (ESKP).

Pursuing research in the polar regions and our oceans always goes hand-in-hand with the development of technological innovations. As such, technology transfer yields new products and services. Last but certainly not least, the Alfred Wegener Institute is continually engaged in the education and training of young researchers, students, pupils or trainees.

These examples show just some of the ways in which our research efforts help to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

The worlds we explore – a brief tour in pictures