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Polar Research in Potsdam

Erich von Drygalski: Head of the First German Expedition to the South Pole

Erich von Drygalski: Head of the First German Expedition to the South Pole

Polar research has a long-standing tradition in Potsdam, going back to the early days of the Royal Prussian Geodetic Institute. At the time, the true physical shape of the earth’s gravity field, the ‘geoid’, was being explored. Scientists of the Meteorological Geomagnetic Observatory and the Geodetic Institute notably influenced both German and international polar research: The German South Polar expedition of 1901–1903 was led by Erich von Drygalski, a student of geodesist Helmert. At the time, Drygalski was working on his dissertation about Earth surface deformation by superimposed ice load, before, in 1881, setting out on his first Greenland expedition. In 1901, he took a Potsdam-built gravity pendulum on the first German South Polar expedition, to be used for gravity measurements. Friederich Bidlingmaier joined the same expedition as meteorologist and geomagneticist. He had been working in Postdam since 1900 and was developing a unified meteorological and geomagnetic observation programme for the simultaneous Antarctic expeditions of Germany, Scotland, Sweden, Argentina and Britain. Various members of these expeditions, including Ernest Shackleton, visited the Meteorological Observatory in Postdam. The second German South Polar expedition in 1910–11 under the leadership of Wilhelm Filchner, included another employee of the Geodetic Institute: Erich Przybyllok who joined as astronomer and geomagneticist.

Alfred Wegener in Potsdam

Alfred Wegener approached the Potsdam institutes repeatedly for technical, methodological and staff support. During Wegener’s Greenland expedition in 1930–31, Karl Weiken, employee at the Geodetic Institute, took responsibility for gravimetry, geographic localisation and altimetry. And Joachim Scholz, staff member at the Meteorological Observatory, worked on Franz Josef Land as a participant in the Soviet Arctic expedition of 1932–33, led by Iwan Papanin.


 

Polar Research in East Germany

German Hut east of Ny-Ålesund. Quarter for the Participants of the East German Expedition to Spitsbergen in 1964

German Hut "Tyskerhytta" east of Ny-Ålesund. Quarter for the Participants of the East German Expedition to Spitsbergen in 1964

After the end of WWII, Potsdam meteorologists revived German Antarctic research under the leadership of Günter Skeib who, from 1955 to 1975 became Director of the Main Meteorological Observatory at Telegrafenberg. In 1959, the first East German polar researchers took part in the fifth Soviet Arctic expedition to Mirny. Having gained experience in studies of the polar ionosphere in Mirny, the GDR launched its own complex ionosphere programme in 1976, resulting in the establishment of Research Station Georg Forster at Schirrmacher Oasis in Dronning Maud Land. During the first three years, the scientists investigated the ionosphere by means of radio signals. After completion of this complex programme, isotope physicists and chemists, geologists, geomagneticists and soil scientists took over the facilities. The Research Station Georg Forster became the primary Antarctic research facility of the GDR. Continual geoscientific, as well as atmospheric, data recordings were part of the ongoing research programme at the station. The coordination of all GDR-participation in Soviet Antarctic expeditions (on approximately 30 occasions) rested with the Academy of Sciences of the GDR, located at Telegrafenberg in Potsdam. Continuing this tradition, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research founded its Research Unit in Potsdam in 1992.

 

 

 

References:

  • Fritzsche, D.: Potsdamer Geowissenschaftler und ihr Einfluß auf die deutsche und internationale Polarforschung bis zum 2. Polarjahr 1932/33. In: Polarforschung 61 (2/2), pp. 153-162, 1991 (ersch. 1992)
  • Fleischmann, K.: Zu den Kältepolen der Erde. 50 Jahre deutsche Polarforschung (pp. 82-151), Delius Klasing Verlag 2005

 
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