In 30 years technology in particular has made enormous advances. What innovations have taken place on board during this time?
Ralf Krocker: Particularly noteworthy in this connection are our further improvements in the IT sector. A computer room with computers, printers and plotters has been set up. In 2008 we installed a dedicated Internet line. Until that time the crew and scientists were only able to send their measurement data and e-mails three times a day via satellite connection. That means the e-mails were sent en bloc in the morning, at noon and in the evening. Now this can be done at any time.
Polarstern just returned from a long voyage in Antarctica. What parts of the ship have suffered from the extreme environmental conditions the most?
Captain Pahl: Sailing through ice places stress on the hull in particular. Because of the vessel’s solid design, however, no major damage has occurred thus far. The ship’s propellers are subjected to stress due to ice contact, this also applies to the helm. In the sections above water level extreme minus temperatures influence the operation of all winches and cranes. We always clear snow and any ice that forms very quickly for safety reasons – especially to ensure that we can walk on the decks without risk.
Ralf Krocker: If the ship goes into dry dock after such a long voyage, a dock inspection takes place. This means all responsible experts walk around the vessel once to see whether there are any dents in the hull – which, as a matter of fact, is always the case. The last time we discovered small holes. They never went completely through the steel plates, but were big enough in diameter that you could stick a pen through them. The rest consists of general signs of wear, such as rust, which for the most part is only superficial, however. In such cases it is sufficient to grind and repaint these areas once. Nonetheless Polarstern is operated very cautious and experienced. The nautical officers and captains deserve great praise as they very smoothly guide the ship through the ice.