Press release

Continued warming of the Arctic Ocean - Northernmost position of the new research vessel Maria S Merian

[04. October 2006] 

Northernmost position of the new research vessel Maria S Merian

Several days ago, the ‘Maria S Merian’ returned from her second Arctic expedition with data confirming trends of Arctic warming.

“Compared to last summer, the water that flows from the Norwegian Sea to the Arctic has been an average 0.8 degrees Celsius warmer this summer,” says expedition leader Dr Ursula Schauer of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. “This is in addition to the last two years already having been warmer than the previous 20 from which we have regular measurements. Over the Yermak Plateau, an oceanic ridge, the oceanographers documented water of more than four degrees Celsius moving up to 81º 20’ northern latitude,” according to Schauer. During the expedition, biologists discovered zooplankton species from the Norwegian Sea which were previously unrecorded from the northern latitudes that they had reached via the warm waters.

For one month, scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, the University of Bremen and the Polish Institute of Oceanology were tracking warm waters along the sea ice margin between Greenland and Spitsbergen. As the sea ice margin was far north this year, the ‘Maria S Merian’ reached its northernmost position yet at 81º 20’N.
In Fram Strait, the scientists continued oceanographic and biological long-term studies that were initiated ten years ago. The climate change observed throughout the past ten years is particularly marked in the Arctic. Oceanographers are working towards a better understanding of the oceans’ role in this process. How much heat is transmitted to the Arctic by the northernmost subsidiary of the warm North Atlantic Current, and how much variation is found in this heat pump, are some of the open questions. For this purpose, the transport of warm, high salinity water from the Atlantic to the Arctic has been recorded in the strait between Greenland and Spitsbergen, using an elaborate fixture system.

Previous measurements have indicated the occurrence of several strong warm pulses during the past decade. Within the context of an international programme, a combination of this and similar data has, for the first time, enabled reconstruction of an Atlantic heat pulse through the Norwegian Sea and far into the inner Arctic over several years. In order to continue the time series, the scientists have collected the instruments deployed in Fram Strait and replaced them with new ones. The automated long-term recordings are verified and complemented with high resolution measurements of current water temperature.

The investigations are tied into a European research project directed at monitoring and modelling the Arctic for long-term studies (DAMOCLES – Developing Arctic Modelling and Observing Capabilities for Long-term Environmental Studies). Central to this project are the interactions of sea ice, atmosphere and ocean. One of the goals is consideration of the potential effects of the dramatically reduced sea ice cover on climate, and hence on environment and humans, both in a regional and global context. Additional information on DAMOCLES can be found on the internet:

Maria S. Merian
The ice margin research vessel ‘Maria S. Merian’ is owned by the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, represented by the Baltic Sea Research Institute Warnemünde ( The headquarters of the research vessel is located at the Institute of Oceanography (
Bremerhaven, den 4. Oktober 2006

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Suggestion for editors:
Your contact person is Dr Ursula Schauer (Tel: ++49-471-4831-1817, email: Your contact person in the public relations department of the Alfred Wegener Institute is Dr Angelika Dummermuth (Tel: ++49-471-4831-1742, email: 


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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.