PS96 Weekly Report No. 3 | 21 till 31 December 2015

Visit at Neumayer station and research on public holidays

[05. January 2016] 

After three days of ice breaking near Neumayer station “Polarstern” finally arrives at the ice shelf front. Once again the ship’s nautical officers did an excellent job! The unloading of tons of cargo and supply of the station progress very smoothly and while all this hard work is going on, some scientists and crew members are given the opportunity to have a look at the impressive Neumayer III station.

The transfer of people from the ship to the base is accomplished by using an open sledge: a one-hour long ride well suited to get a first-hand experience of Antarctic temperatures.

A few days later a group of biologists who embarked “Polarstern” at Neumayer station is deployed at Drescher Inlet (Riiser Larsen Ice Shelf) where they will investigate a seal colony over the next four weeks. On the way to their destination we make only slow progress because of an extensive cover of sea ice topped with a thick layer of snow. A small lead in the ice cover is utilised for the first biological station. Biological and oceanographic “presents” arrive on deck just in time for Christmas Eve. Most gear works perfectly, and the ship’s laboratories are busy with scientists processing their sample material. In the evening all scientific work is halted because there is a small celebration in the “blue saloon” with speeches, a choir singing Christmas carols and a “Secret Santa” event with presents. Christmas at sea is a very special occasion with every one having her/his own thoughts and feelings, which everybody should report home individually.

The work at Drescher Inlet is described in detail in the “Polarstern” blog. For a whole day the helicopters fly three tons of cargo to the field camp at the head of the 25 km long inlet. Later in the evening we depart heading South, thereby mapping the seafloor with the multibeam swath bathymetry system. We make good progress while sailing through a coastal polynya. The following station work is meticulously planned using a geographical information system (GIS) that provides detailed data and maps of our study area with seafloor topography, spatial distribution of glacial ice, locations of already existing samples and previous cruise tracks. The researchers combine the already available data sets with their scientific objectives to plan the station work over the coming days.

At the stations the crew has to operate a huge diversity of scientific gear: CTD for measuring temperature and salinity of the water column and for collecting sea water samples, ROV for video/photography documentation of the seafloor, various trawls for recovering animals living at the seabed, bottom grab, box corer, fish trap and bottom water samplers. Although “Polarstern‘s” working deck is spacious, it is packed with gear which has to be moved around and attached to various wires. Every time the deck‘s crew accomplishes this challenging task in an excellent way.

Fig. 1: We meet the British Antarctic Survey’s supply vessel “Ernest Shackleton” on the 28th of December. (Photo: AWI) (Photo: Alfred Wegener Institut)

On the way south we meet the British supply vessel “Ernest Shackleton” on her way from Halley station to Cape Town. Both ships attach themselves briefly to a big ice floe to allow the captain, chief scientist and chief engineer of “Polarstern” to visit the British ship for exchanging valuable information about the actual sea ice situation in the southern Weddell Sea, an extremely important requirement for navigating through the waters at these latitudes. Meanwhile, a small group of the “Shackleton” crew visits “Polarstern” and participates in a guided tour from the bridge down to the engine room.

The deployment of the bottom trawls later that night satisfies the expectations of the biologists. Each working group retrieves specimens of its particular interest. Alternating with the deployments of biological sampling gear, sea water samplers come on deck and fill the sample bottles of the oceanographers. Also the geologists are in action and recover an undisturbed piece of seafloor surface with a box corer.

The research is progressing well while the year 2015 is coming to its end with a barbecue evening and a midnight reception on the bridge. This report ends with the year 2015 – the next report will follow in the New Year.


All officers, crew and scientists aboard “Polarstern” wish everybody at home a Happy New Year 2016!



Michael Schröder

Scientific Coordination

Rainer Knust
Rainer Knust


Sanne Bochert
Sanne Bochert