Press release

Discovery of the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf 100 years ago

[27. January 2012] 

Bremerhaven, 27 January 2012.  On 31 January 1912, Wilhelm Filchner reached the Antarctic Filchner-Ronne ice shelf named after him in the second German Antarctic expedition. His work showed that, contrary to the hypotheses popular at that time, there was probably a connection between the West Antarctic Peninsula and the East Antarctic. For the first time it was possible to estimate the extent of the Weddell Sea which developed into a preferential area of German Antarctic research.

The ice barrier, towering up to 20 metres high from the sea, blocked the further route to the south of the research ship Deutschland 100 years ago at almost 78 degrees South in the Antarctic Weddell Sea. Head of the expedition, Wilhelm Filchner, explored the region in the weeks that followed, coming to the conclusion that this was an ice shelf: a huge plate of ice which is fixed to the ice cap of the Antarctic and floats on the sea.

He also discovered several nunataks which are rocky elements protruding from the ice. For Filchner this was an indication that the explored sector between 30 and 42 degrees West also has land character. ”Filchner therefore made the hypothesis of some geographers of that time that there was an arm of the ocean which separated the East Antarctic from the West Antarctic Peninsula very improbable,” explains Dr. Reinhard Krause, science historian at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, which was one of the main objectives of the expedition.

Filchner also collected extensive meteorological and oceanographic data from the Weddell Sea. He had originally planned to spend the winter with his team on the ice shelf but a part of the ice on which the expedition team had built a station broke off during a spring tide. Filchner and his team therefore beat the retreat from the Antarctic winter on 4 March 1912, heading in the direction of South Georgia. However, they only reached the island eight months later in the following south summer on 19 December 1912 because their ship was frozen in the dense pack ice of the Weddell Sea and they had to spend the winter on board.

Detailed information on the Wilhelm Filchner expedition can be found in our Press Release of 5 May 2011 on the occasion of the start of the expedition in Bremerhaven at:[mode]=6&cHash=56eccc08844f273ff09f73b22d5438b9


Notes for Editors:  Your contact persons at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Dr. Reinhard Krause (Tel.: +49 (0)471 4831-1924; E-Mail: and Dr. Folke Mehrtens (Dept. 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.