Press release

Winter in the Antarctic: "Polarstern" comes home

[14. February 2003] 

On Sunday 16th February at about midday, the Alfred Wegener Institutes’ (AWI) research ship, the “Polarstern” arrived back in Bremerhaven. The twentieth antarctic expedition ended a day earlier than planned. A major task of the three and a half month long journey was the supply of the research stations “Kohnen” and “Neumayer”. On the second part of the cruise, on the 9th December 2002, the scientists and crew celebrated the twentieth birthday of the ice-breaker. A scientific highlight of this trip was the discovery of a unexpected biologically rich area in the Weddel Sea.

“The life is blooming there” describes Dr Walter Geibert from the AWI, which was a very surprising result. In a poorly described region of the northeast Weddel Sea in the Antarctic, oceanographic profiles were taken from the transient waters between the antarctic and the subantarctic. The water samples showed an unexpected high concentration of chlorophyll, suggesting much higher than previously thought algal growth in the region. The phenomenon was observed over an area of 500km.
“As the area is so large, we must examine the possibility that it is acting as a carbon sink” says Geibert, who is currently writing a paper describing these results. In addition many whales were also seen in this region.

Supply of the Neumayer Station
“On arrival at the Neumayer station we encountered favourable ice and weather conditions” reported cruise leader Dr. Dieter Fütterer from the AWI. In contrast to the previous year, the ice-breaker was able to reach the edge of the ice shelf on 13th December, and unload its cargo. The scientists from Neumayer were delivered supplies, fuel and scientific equipment. Supplies for the inland “Kohnen station” were also delivered to the Antarctic from this point. The Polarstern was part of a complex logistical network, this season, many scientists were tranported to the Antarctic by plane.
Currently, people at Neumayer station are preparing for winter. Most of the summer guests have already departed, the last ones will be leaving on March 5th with the South African research ice-breaker the “Agulhas”. The ten overwinterers will then be left alone until November.

The “Kohnen station” on the inland ice was in accordance XXXX on the 13th February. It is a component of the EuroPean Ice Coring in the Antarctic project (EPICA). Information about the earths climatic history is contained within the antarctic inland ice. With a deep drill the scientists are able to bring this information to the surface. This summer, they drilled ice samples from depths of about 1551.55 metres. This depth corresponds to an age of approximately 50,000 years. The resulting ice cores were transported by commercial freigher to Bremerhaven, where in April they were processed in the central EPICA laboratory at the AWI and distributed to the scientists involved for further investigation. Most of the Kohnen station crew are already on their way home. Only the transport of heavy equipment and special vehicles over the ice is still under way. The distance from Kohnen to Neumayer is about 700km and takes about ten days.

Summit on the High Seas
On the way there was a special meeting on the German marine research vessel the “Meteor” on the 8th November 2002: at 11°N, 20°W where the “Meteor” met the “Polarstern”. The “Meteor’ was on its 55th expedition in the tropical Atlantic to investigate the interactive effects between biological/chemical processes in the light transparent surface layers of the ocean and the chemical processes occurring in the atmosphere. The expedition leader Professor Doug Wallace of the Institute of Oceanography in Kiel and the expedition leader of the Polarstern, Professor Gerhard Kattner of the AWI, decided to make a short break in the mission to facilitate an intensive scientific exchange between the working groups of both ships.
The Polarstern will remain in Bremerhaven until the 28th February so that regular mainenance can be performed. The next expedition to the Arctic will then begin.


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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.