Press release

Seal of quality on the anniversary: scientists celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Franco-German Arctic station on Spitsbergen and its inclusion in a new climate data network

[26. April 2013] 

Bremerhaven/Ny-Ålesund, 26 April 2013. There are two reasons for celebration today at the Franco-German Arctic research station AWIPEV on Spitsbergen: firstly, the scientific community at the world’s northernmost research location marks the 10th year of cooperation between the German Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the French Institut Polaire Paul Emile Victor (IPEV). Secondly, the station is today the first meteorological facility in the world to be awarded with the seal of quality of GRUAN, the climate data network, the objective of which is to measure elevation profiles of climate parameters such as temperature, air pressure and air humidity according to uniform worldwide quality standards so as to globally compare observations.

Anyone wishing to understand the climate system of our Earth needs reliable data – for example, on temperature, air pressure and air humidity. However, these measurement data are only reliable and comparable if they are collected in a uniform manner. “A bathwater thermometer will, of course, provide a temperature which is distinctly less accurate than a precision thermometer. Meteorological measuring devices can also have different measurement accuracy which is why it is decisive for climate researchers that the measurements taken at the different stations throughout the world are comparable. Only in this way can scientists then derive reliable climate trends from these data”, says AWI meteorologist Dr. Marion Maturilli, head of the meteorological observatory at the Franco-German Arctic research station AWIPEV in Ny-Ålesund, Spitsbergen.

The Franco-German Arctic research station is the world’s first measurement station to be certified according to the standards of the Global Climate Observing System Reference Upper Air Network (GRUAN) – an international climate reference network initiated by the World Meteorological Organization, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Council for Science.

“For us, the measurement itself changes with this certification. Whenever we send up one of our weather balloons now, we make different comparative measurements on the ground first using the radiosonde which we then fix to the balloon. This calibration of the radiosonde is made in the laboratory in a cloud chamber and in a small wind tunnel with precision thermometer and moisture meter. This means that we know exactly how and with which precision the sensors of the radiosonde react”, says Marion Maturilli.

The comparative data from the laboratory and the radio-transmitted meteorological measurement values from the actual balloon ascent are then transmitted to the GRUAN Lead Centre at the Lindenberg Meteorological Observatory of the Deutscher Wetterdienst. “The colleagues analyse the measurements and make any correction resulting from the comparative measurements”, explains the meteorologist.

The official presentation of the GRUAN certificate by Dr. Holger Vömel, head of the GRUAN Lead Centre, will be the climax of the celebrations for the ten-year anniversary of the Franco-German research cooperation in Ny-Ålesund. In 2003 the AWI Director at that time, Prof. Dr. Jörn Thiede, and head of the IPEV, Dr. Gerard Jugie, decided to give a signal for joint European polar research. They no longer wished to merely preach cooperation but to put it into practice through the merger of the German and French research stations to produce the AWIPEV station.

This initiative proved to be extremely successful: “Cooperation with the French colleagues is excellent. The best proof of this is our joint overwintering team which we have put together and trained jointly for over five years now. The question as to who comes from Germany and who from France then doesn’t even arise when we are finally working together”, says AWI station coordinator Dr. Roland Neuber.

AWIPEV is the largest research station in Ny-Ålesund to date. Every year it accommodates around 130 to 150 scientists from Germany and France. “These colleagues are still living and working in six different buildings distributed over Ny-Ålesund. We would therefore like to build a new station and are currently drawing up plans with a seminar group of the Bremen ‘School of Architecture’ for a joint building”, explains Roland Neuber.

Which design will win through remains to be seen. One thing that is clear is that the scientific interest in the northernmost research station on the globe is growing. “Ever since we put our new underwater observatory into operation, we have been receiving more cooperation inquiries from researchers of other nations because subjects such as ocean acidification or the question as to the physical changes in the ocean as a result of climate change are highly topical and can be investigated well here in the Kong fjord”, says Roland Neuber.

The AWIPEV station also makes headlines with its research into the atmosphere. For example, with their investigations in Ny-Ålesund, AWI scientists from Potsdam contributed to recording the first ozone hole over the Arctic.

The team under meteorologist Marion Maturilli sends up a weather balloon with an ozonesonde into the Artic sky once a week. Its data will also soon be fed into the GRUAN data network. “We pursue three long-term objectives with our certified measurements. They are intended to help to better identify climate trends, serve as comparison for satellite measurements and are incorporated in scientific studies of atmospheric processes”, explains the head of the observatory. And because she and her colleagues are rather proud of this work, they are particularly pleased that the GRUAN certification is awarded alongside the 10th AWIPEV anniversary and therefore that the joint station has yet further proof of its pedigree.



A radiosonde is an instrument weighing around 200 grammes with sensors to measure the meteorological parameters of air pressure, temperature and humidity. Its position is determined via GPS and the data for wind direction and speed derived from this. The radiosonde is launched on a helium-filled balloon and achieves a height of around 30 kilometres with an ascent speed of five metres per second. On its way through the atmosphere it transmits the measurements to the ground station every second so that vertical profiles of the measured parameters result. It takes around 90 minutes to ascend to this height. The members of the AWIPEV station team in Ny-Ålesund send up a radiosonde like this every day.


GRUAN stands for Global Climate Observing System Reference Upper Air Network, an international climate reference observing network initiated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council for Science (ICSU). Its objective is to collect highly precise long-term data on the physical features of the atmosphere so that informative atmosphere elevation profiles may be created with their assistance. The GRUAN Lead Centre is located at the Lindenberg Meteorological Observatory of the German Meteorological Service - Deutscher Wetterdienst. Its staff coordinates the measurement standards, trains scientists and engineers such as the AWIPEV overwintering team, processes incoming data, constantly checks their quality and provides these to scientists.


Notes for Editors

Please find more information about AWIPEV on the English website

Your scientific contact persons at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Marion Maturilli (e-mail: Marion.Maturilli(at) and Roland Neuber (e-mail: Roland.Neuber(at) Your contact person in the Dept. of Communications and Media Relations is Sina Löschke (phone +49 471 4831-2008, e-mail: medien(at)

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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 icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the 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 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.