Press release

30 years of hard work in the services of research – the Alfred Wegener Institute celebrates the birthday of RV Polarstern

[31. January 2012] 

Bremerhaven, 31 January 2012. This year the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association (AWI) celebrates the 30th anniversary of the commissioning of Polarstern, the ice-breaking research and supply ship of the German polar research. Despite its age, Polarstern, providing space for a maximum of 55 scientists, still counts among the best-equipped research icebreakers in the world. RV Polarstern has not only reached the North Pole three times in its career but is also an indispensible vessel to supply the German Neumayer Station III in the Antarctic. The Alfred Wegener Institute is organising an open ship event for the public on 3 June 2012 to mark Polarstern’s anniversary. 

Only with the help of RV Polarstern was it possible to break through the pack ice at the Ekström ice shelf edge to open up an access for the transport ship with building materials for the construction of the Antarctic station in the 2007/8 season. Because for all the technical advances, the cold, the wintry sea ice and the severe weather conditions in the polar regions continue to make things very difficult. “We are proud of this ship and the research results we have been able to achieve. This has made a considerable contribution to Germany quickly achieving a leading role in polar and marine research after accession to the Antarctic Treaty. And we wish to celebrate the 30th birthday of our ship in style,” says Prof. Dr. Karin Lochte, the Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute.

In Bremerhaven the birthday is taken as a cue to provide access to this ship to the broad public. On an “Open Ship Day” planned for 3 June 2012 on the grounds of the Lloyd shipyard in Bremerhaven visitors will be able to inspect the ship, the rooms and research instruments. Selected research results and the work in polar regions will be presented in a framework programme.

“We are delighted to have a professional operator of Polarstern and the Neumayer Station III in the form of the F. Laeisz GmbH shipping company (Bremerhaven). The shipping company was once again commissioned following an invitation to tender process at the beginning of 2011. Only the contribution of a competent shipping company in operations and maintenance enables Polarstern to continue to meet the requirements as research and supply ship on time without any mentionable downtimes,” emphasises Dr. Heike Wolke, Administrative Director at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

One element of the ship management agreement is the helicopter flight operations on board Polarstern. The helicopters operated by a subcontractor make an indispensable contribution to the expeditions not only in the exploration of the ice but also in the enlargement of the areas which can be explored by the scientists. In cooperation with the helicopter operator HeliService International in Bremerhaven, it has been possible to take two operative helicopters of the type Bo 105 in Cape Town on board Polarstern within a short space of time. This became necessary because both Polarstern helicopters were put out of action during a weather-related incident near the Neumayer Station III. Fortunately, there were only slight injuries. Dr. Uwe Nixdorf, head of AWI logistics explains: “Helicopter flights have a high risk potential particularly in the polar regions. Thanks to our special precautions and rules we have had only one serious accident in the past 30 years which happened in 2008.“ The AWI will support the Laeisz shipping company in the invitation to tender helicopter flight operations of Polarstern which is due in 2012 so that this can be prepared and conducted with the utmost care.

Preparations are currently underway for the fourth Polarstern winter experiment. On 27 October 2012, shortly before its 30th birthday, Polarstern will be ceremoniously seen off in Bremerhaven for an 18-month expedition. During the entire 2012 south winter the ship will be in operation in the South Ocean in the ice of the Antarctic.

Since Polarstern is only expected back in Bremerhaven on 8 April 2014, all those interested in Polarstern should make sure that they do not miss the open ship day on 3 June 2012.

Please find further information regarding RV Polarstern on our website: for German Polar Research


Notes for Editors:  You contact persons at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Dr. Uwe Nixdorf, Logistics Department (+49 (0)471 4831-1160; E-Mail: and Dr. Folke Mehrtens, Department of Communications and Media Relations (Tel.: +49 (0)471 4831-2007; E-Mail:


The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic and Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research ice breaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the national and international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.


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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.