Vessels / Ice Stations

Polar expeditions with research ice breakers are the backbone of our field programs since over 30 years. They are performed in order to observe to improve our understanding of the polar sea ice zones. Here at AWI, we are mostly using our own ice breaker RV Polarstern, but we are also involved in expeditions by partner institutes with their vessels. 

During these expeditions, we are performing visual ice observations from the vessel’s bridge (see box below), but the main focus is on ice station work and additional airborne measurements with helicopters. During ice stations, the ship is positioned alongside of an ice floe or it is moored to the ice for longer stations. Station times range from a few hours to several days, depending on the scientific focus of the expedition. Few exceptions have week-long drift stations with the same ice. 

To support the work on and from the vessel, we are using various remote sensing and model results, e.g. to guide the vessel through the ice and/or to find representative and well-suited floes for our work. Our sea ice expeditions usually have a strong interdisciplinary aspect, involving biological or bio-geochemical work, also ranging from the atmosphere through snow and sea ice into the ocean.

Ice stations

During the classical ice station, the ice is accessed through a gangway and heavy equipment is lifted to the ice by crane. Different working groups find their measurement sites on the ice and perform huge variety of measurements and sampling of snow and sea ice (in our group), but also the atmosphere and ocean (in collaboration). 

Examples from all this work may be found on the other web sites of our section (see ‘foci’ and ‘tools’)

Bridge observations

Sea ice and snow conditions are regularly recorded by doing visual observations from the ship’s bridge. With these observations, we contribute to the longest and most consistent ship-based observation data base for the Antarctic and Arctic. The Antarctic time series is already more than 40 years long. 

The procedure is very simple and can be done from every ship that reaches the sea ice zones in both hemispheres. Every hour, a scientist identifies the total sea-ice concentration, the three most dominant ice classes and their sea ice and snow characteristics. These observations are recorded into a standardized protocol and are combined with a record of the meteorological state, i.e. temperature, wind conditions and weather.