Long-term studies Working group

The main goals of the working group are the quality-controlled collection, archival and analysis of the Helgoland Roads phytoplankton, zooplankton and physico-chemical time series at Helgoland. An intensified collaboration with the sister time series at the Waddenseastation Sylt as well as continued collaboration with national and international partners are further goals

Ecological long-term research at Helgoland

Ecological, physical and chemical time series are an essential tool for the study of climate-related topics. They can document long-term changes in the environment and also serve as background data for experimental studies. Helgoland has a long tradition in ecological time series research and the scientists of the Biological Station Helgoland produce a number of extremely valuable time series that have been used for scientific research by scientists around the world. The core time series are known as Helgoland Roads and comprise phytoplankton and zooplankton as well as physico-chemical parameters. But several shorter time series and spatio-temporal datasets also exist and Helgoland scientists are jointly setting standards by linking these data through detailed documentation , quality control and data management to facilitate detailed analyses long-term ecological change and their societal consequences.

The most important Helgoland Roads time series are described below.

Helgoland Roads forms an important component of the overall pool of the AWIs time series which comprises 30 individual time series resourcees ranging from physical and chemical time series via periglacial to a range of biodiversity data sets (see LTO@AWI)

Helgoland Roads

The Biologische Anstalt Helgoland has a long tradition in the generation, archival and analysis of marine, ecological time series. The first temperature and salinity time series were started in 1873. The earliest macroalgal data were also collected in the 19th century.

In 1962 one of the most important time series, the so-called Helgoland Roads time series on plankton was initiated. In the context of that monitoring programme, phytoplankton data are quantitatively analysed every working day. Therefore this time series represents one of the temporally most highly resolved time series in Europe. Since 1974 additional data on zooplankton have also been collected and are now being analysed thrice weekly. In addition to these core time series, bacterial counts have also been carried for over 40 years, although this time series has now been discontinued

The macroalgal and macrobenthos communities have also been invesgtigated periodically (although not continuously). However, the fact that the 'Helgoländer Felswatt' is the only habitat of this nature in Germany, makes this data set all the more valuable. 

The team

Karen Wiltshire: Group leader

Maarten Boersma: Zooplankton

Ursula Ecker: Zooplankton

Mirco Scharfe: Hydrography and QA

Kristine Carstens: Nutrients/Chlorophyll and data requests

Saskia Ohse: DOC

Silvia Peters: Phytoplanktonanalyst, data requests phytoplankton

Subrata Sarker: Post doc

Laura Käse: PhD student


Since 1962 phytoplankton samples have been counted using the Uthermöhl method.                                                                             


Zooplankton is analyzed three times weekly.                                                                                                                             


Nutrients (posphate, nitrate, nitrite, ammonium) have been measured since 1962, silicate since 1967


Daily temperature and salinity data are available since 1962 plus some data beginning in 1873                                     

Automated data collection

The stationary ferrybox on Helgoland

Increasingly time series data are not generated manually anymore but with the assistance of autonomous measuring systems. One example is the stationary ferry box, which, since 2006, has generated reliable data on a large number of parameters including temperature, salinity, inorganic nutrients and fluorescens. Importantly it is doing so at a frequency of minutes. The ferrybox data are not only being used by researchers from Helgoland, but are also archived online (https://dashboard.awi.de/?dashboard=4608) and feed into the COSYNA data portal (COSYNA= Coastal Observing System for Northern and Arctic Seas).

In addition to the stationary system on Helgoland, a Ferry Box system on the passenger ship MS Helgoland was put into operation in January 2016. The ship sails daily on the route Cuxhaven - Helgoland - Cuxhaven. The measuring system continuously samples the water body along this transect and provides measurement data (e. g. water temperature, salinity, oxygen concentration) which are used for the analysis of the space-time variation of parameters and processes in the coastal transition zone.

A second important observatory near Helgoland is the Margate field, which hosts a large number of moored sensor and is used for insitu ecological experiments. You find more information on MARGATE here.

Data archival

All Helgoland Roads data are archived in the online repository PANGAEA. For our biodiversity data representative image material (as meta data for the numerical data sets) is also archived in the planktonnet database.