Press release

75th anniversary of the ‘German Greenland Expedition Alfred Wegener’

[24. March 2005] 

Exactly 75 years ago, on April 1st, 1930, the ‘German Greenland Expedition Alfred Wegener’ left from Copenhagen with fourteen participants. Determining the thickness of the Greenland ice shield as 2700 metres represented a sensational scientific success of the one-year operation. However, extreme environmental conditions of the Arctic made the expedition very strenuous. Alfred Wegener, expedition leader and founder of the theory of continental drift, fell victim to these extreme conditions. Currently, Wegener’s research interests continue to be pursued at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, named after him.

From the outset, the ‘German Greenland Expedition Alfred Wegener’ has been fighting with the severe Arctic environmental conditions. The ice-going ‘Gustav Holm’ is forced to wait for six weeks off West Greenland before 100 tonnes of expedition material and 25 Icelandic Ponies can be transferred from the ship to the inland ice at 1000 metres altitude. Under time pressure, three inland stations are built at 72 degrees northern latitude and serve for geophysical and meteorological investigations throughout one year. In particular, construction and supply of the centrally located station “Eismitte” (‘Central Ice’) prove difficult as the modern propeller sledges are hardly usable under the prevailing snow conditions. With newly accumulated deep snow and temperatures down to minus 54 degrees Celsius, equipment and materials are transported across 400 kilometres by dog sledge. Alfred Wegener and his Greenlandic companion Rasmus Villumsen die during their return from one such trip to station ‘Central Ice’. Wegener’s brother Kurt takes over as leader of the expedition which continues to accumulate extensive metorological, geodetic and glaciological datasets filling many volumes. During their stay over winter, researchers also ascertain that a high pressure area, presumed at the time to be located above the inland ice, does not exist. This result is of particular significance for meteorological dynamics of the North Atlantic, and hence for shipping and aviation.

In 2005, Wegener’s scientific heirs continue to follow his ideas at the Alfred Wegener Institute. The research icebreaker “Polarstern” regularly carries out physical, chemical, geological and biological surveys in the waters surrounding Greenland. Other projects are concerned with the collection and analysis of ice cores. Ice cores from the arctic and antarctic regions allow the reconstruction of historical climatic changes. Despite many technical advances since Alfred Wegener’s expeditions, extreme environmental conditions in polar regions still constitute a major challenge for both humans and instruments.

Bremerhaven, March 24, 2005

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The Institute

The Alfred Wegener Institute pursues research in the polar regions and the oceans of mid and high latitudes. As one of the 18 centres of the Helmholtz Association it coordinates polar research in Germany and provides ships like the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations for the international scientific community.