Tracking Changes -

research at our planet’s hotspots

As polar researchers, we have the privilege of working in unique habitats. The Arctic can be breathtaking: where else can you see the rugged glacial fjords of Greenland and Spitsbergen, polar bears gracefully striding across ice floes, or the stark contrasts produced by warm waters from the subtropics and Arctic cold fronts? Antarctic expeditions on board the research icebreaker Polarstern take us to the stormy seas of the “Furious Fifties” and “Screaming Sixties” and to the majestic silence of the ice-covered ocean and tabular icebergs drifting by in one of the region’s least touched by the hand of man.
This issue will offer you glimpses into how this fascination and our own curiosity drive our work. Join us for aerial sea-ice measurements above the Arctic, drilling trips to the second-largest ice shelf in the Antarctic, or learn how our mathematicians are developing new climate-modelling methods. In the process, you’ll also get an impression of how many puzzle pieces it takes to arrive at a comprehensive picture of the diverse physical processes involved in climate at the Earth’s poles.
Most of our stories have one thing in common: in virtually all areas, researchers from different disciplines are joining forces in international projects to better understand complex processes and interrelations. In this regard, reliable long-term observations are the foundation of our work. Examples include: the daily temperature measurements at our research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic, monitoring ocean currents at our deep-sea moorings in the Fram Strait and the Weddell Sea, and the data from our sea-ice buoys drifting through the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans, as well as the data supplied by various satellites, without which modern climate research would be practically impossible.
Whether for the ocean, ice, atmosphere or land: our efforts provide reliable data that is absolutely essential for the validation of our climate models and which helps us to continually improve their accuracy. In addition, anyone seeking to grasp the current changes must also consider our planet’s climate history. The statistical series for the ocean reach back 65 million years; those for Antarctica’s inland ice date back 800,000 years – and where no data is available, advanced climate models can help us fill in the gaps.
One thing is certain: the polar regions are being affected by climate change. Dramatic signs of that change – like the retreat of the sea ice – have first and foremost been felt in the Arctic – and some parts of the Antarctic are now following suit. Accordingly, our mission is to document the impacts and speed of this transformation, to explore its causes, and to map its future development – a responsibility that we, the climate researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, don’t take lightly. The guiding directive for our work is laid out in Goal 13 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda: understanding and combating climate change for the sake of everyone on Earth.
Our politicians and society, as a whole, will only find solutions for this global problem if they have a solid foundation of reliable facts. Accordingly, our duties also include disseminating what we learn and engaging in a dialogue with society at large. Here, too, we are breaking new ground: our Climate Office for Polar Regions and Sea Level Rise is working together with the Helmholtz Climate Initiative REKLIM (Regional Climate Change) to develop innovative new formats – like our successful online sea-ice portal (meereisportal.de) and as well as new event formats that have attracted attention and boosted climate-­change awareness nationwide. Please feel free to contact us for further information on any aspect of our work. But for now, we hope you enjoy reading the articles!

Prof Torsten Kanzow
Head of the Climate Sciences Division at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research