Press release

Chosen: Scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute receive new research funds from Helmholtz Association

[27. September 2011] 

Bremerhaven, 27 September 2011. In a stringent selection procedure the Helmholtz Association has chosen 20 junior scientists, who can now set up their own research group at one of the 17 Helmholtz centres. Three of the approved applications came from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, which thus achieved above average success. The applications were accepted in a science competition among 226 German and foreign applicants and will be funded with a total budget of 1.25 to 1.5 million euros each over a period of five to six years. In the new teams around 20 young researchers and technicians will work on socially relevant topics in the field of climate research.


Potsdam geologist Dr. Hugues Lantuit, for example, will devote himself to the, in part, dramatic erosion of Arctic coasts (Press Release of 18.04.2011) and thus a phenomenon that will very decisively change the living conditions of communities in these areas. As a rule, Arctic regions are sparsely populated. As nearly everywhere in the world, however, coasts are also major axes for the economic and social life in the respective region. Since around 34 percent of the worldwide coasts are located in Arctic permafrost areas, the regions affected by increasing erosion are enormous. Though it has been possible to clearly determine the extent of the recession of coasts to date, we have yet to gain a comprehensive understanding of the triggering factors and the erosion processes themselves. In cooperation with the University of Potsdam the new group of junior scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute will study Arctic coastal erosion in detail using Beaufort Lake in Canada as an example. At present the coastline there is receding at an average rate of 1 to 2 metres a year. This makes the region one of the Arctic coasts hardest hit by erosion.


How much the sea level will rise by the end of the century depends to a decisive degree on the extent to which the large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica change. It is currently difficult to make precise forecasts also because the flow characteristics of ice cannot be calculated exactly. However, the faster glaciers move towards the ocean under conditions of persistent Earth warming, the greater the long-term impacts on the sea level. The group of junior scientists headed by glaciologist Dr. Ilka Weikusat at the Alfred Wegener Institute will therefore examine the flow and deformation mechanisms of ice and primarily focus on the microscopically tiny structures of polar ice sheets. As remarkable as it may sound, the dynamics of the gigantic glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica are very significantly influenced by the microworld of ice crystals. The cooperation partners are the University of Tübingen and the University of Utrecht.


Dr. Hauke Flores is mainly preoccupied with the question of how a decline in sea ice will change the marine ecosystems of the polar regions. The biologist is currently working at the Dutch research institute IMARES on the island of Texel and will set up his group of young researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute in cooperation with IMARES and the University of Hamburg. Sea ice is populated by microalgae and extremely tiny organisms that, in turn, play a major role for the carbon balance of polar ecosystems. With his new team Hauke Flores therefore wants to determine the extent to which the carbon from sea ice influences the current food webs of the polar oceans. It is possible, for instance, to estimate the impacts on fish stocks and biodiversity if the sea ice area constantly diminishes – as can be observed in the Arctic at present (Press Release of 05.09.2011). The results of the project will thus supply important data for shaping fishery management and marine environmental protection in the Arctic and Antarctic in a foresighted fashion.


Notes for Editors: Your contact in the Communication and Media Department is Ralf Röchert (tel: +49 (0)471 4831-1680; e-mail:


The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and middle latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the seventeen 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.