Deep Sea Research

Polarstern Departs on Arctic Expedition

Research focuses on the AWI Hausgarten between Greenland and Svalbard
[22. May 2023] 

Today, Monday, 22 May 2023, the Research Vessel Polarstern will leave her homeport in Bremerhaven, catching the afternoon high tide at ca 3:00 pm and bound for the Arctic Ocean. The four-week expedition, slated to end on 19 July in Tromsø, Norway, will focus on extended ecological fieldwork at the AWI’s deep-sea observatory Hausgarten and at the FRAM Ocean Observing System between Greenland and Svalbard. 50 researchers and a ship’s crew of 24 will be on board.

“We will determine and quantify which shifts in the ecosystem are related to the rising water temperatures and retreating sea ice produced by climate change,” says Dr Thomas Soltwedel, a biologist and head of the Helmholtz-Max Planck Joint Research Group for Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). “We will do so not only at the water’s surface, but throughout the water column, all the ways down to the seafloor at a depth of more than 5,500 metres.” In the process, the expedition team will assess how the functions of selected plankton and benthic communities are evolving, both spatially and temporally. In addition, they will investigate the degree of plastic litter pollution, vertical flows of microplastic from the ocean’s surface to the seafloor, and interactions between plastic and marine organisms.

In the course of the expedition, the team will attend to further tasks concerning the FRAM (Frontiers in Arctic marine Monitoring) Ocean Observing System. For example, an autonomous underwater vehicle that operates on the ocean floor (Benthic Crawler) will be retrieved after twelve months on duty. The Crawler creates oxygen profiles of the seafloor, photographs its surroundings, and uses a laser scanner to survey the terrain. The data gathered offers information on oxygen consumption in connection with carbon mineralisation at the bottom of the deep sea.

Between now and October, there will be two subsequent expeditions, with a call to port in Tromsø in between: From mid-June, the Polarstern will engage in geoscientific research at the Aurora Vent Field, a hydrothermal region northeast of Greenland, where scientists will investigate e.g. seafloor spreading and the unique biotic communities at Gakkel Ridge. In early August, she’ll set sail for the Central Arctic to evaluate the impacts of sea-ice retreat on the ocean and life throughout the North Pole region, down to the ocean’s depths. The research icebreaker is expected back in Bremerhaven on 1 October.


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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.