The Helmholtz Centres collect data from all around the globe on the growing stresses the earth system is exposed to. At the centre of interest are the different aspects of climate change, such as the decay of permafrost soils, the increase in extreme weather events, natural hazards like earthquakes, and the global increase in environmental pollutants. The recently launched Earth System Knowledge Platform (ESKP) aims at gathering expert knowledge and making it available and usable to the public, administration and political decision-makers.

In future it will be vital to link expertise across the fields of science in order to gain a more global process understanding of the earth system components. Therefore, scientists are challenged to place emphasis on the transdisciplinarity of their research and on collaboration with other societal bodies and forms of knowledge, thus preparing the ground for more holisitc views, analyses and interpretations of chains of action. The long-term objective of ESKP is to build capacities for integrative research approaches involving the major research institutions, national authorities as well as the political and societal decision-makers.

The Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) contributes to this interdisciplinary collaboration within the Helmholtz Association with expertise in the polar and coastal regions.

Our Key Topics:

Life at the Antarctic sea-bed


Key Topic Biodiversity

Species show individual responses to climate change, anthropogenic influence and changes in the earth system. Some species are subject to extinction while others conquer new habitats or effectively adapt to changed environmental conditions. The Alfred Wegener Institute uses own data sets as well as historical data and species distribution models to serve the topic of "climate change impacts" within ESKP.

Contact persons:  Alexandra Kraberg, Stephan Frickenhaus


Key Topic Pollutants

Simulation experiments carried out and probes taken by the Alfred Wegener Institute help understand the propagation of marine pollutants and tracers and can, for example, document in what way pollutants from Western Europe are dispersed into the northern ocean parts. Carrying out such experiments under different climate states reveals typical dispersion patterns. This approach enables projections for pollutant dispersions within the ESKP topics "Pollutants".

Contact personr: Michael Karcher


Key Topic Permafrost


Thawing permafrost causes intense environmental changes observed over wide Arctic areas. Its degradation contributes to the global climate change. During regular campaigns our scientists collect data on the velocity of the warming of different permafrost regions and their erosion. Examining submarine permafrost areas and large-scale submarine landslides can help to better understand the formation of tsunami events. The AWI working group for periglacial research is currently working on tools to bundle and visualize such data for the public.

Contact person:  Boris Biskaborn, Hugues Lantuit

Further links: GTN-P, page21

Coastal Ecosystems

Key Topic Coastal Ecosystems


The Alfred Wegener Institute investigates the influence of extreme weather events such as severe storms or short-term heat waves onto the coastal ecosystems and the local species. The objective is to better understand the impact of such extremes onto the stability of coastal ecosystems as well as the analysis and definition of tipping points which would lead to persistent changes in those ecosystems and in the economic exploitation of coastal systems. This approach is a contribution to the ESKP topic "Natural hazards and extreme events".

Links: Coastal Ecology

Contact person: Philipp Fischer



Coastal Hazards

Key Topic Coastal Hazards


To assess the risks coastal regions are exposed to, the Alfred Wegener Institute collects numerous kinds of data and develops computer models e.g. for tsunamis which are caused by earthquakes or landslides. These models are tested and calibrated by simulating historical events. This expertise contributes to the ESKP topic "Natural hazards and extreme events".

Contactperson: Natalja Rakowsky

Further links: 


Sea Ice

Key Topic Sea Ice



The decline of Artic sea ice in mean thickness and extent which has been observed over the past 30 years, is a clear indicator for the ongoing climate change which the Polar Regions are especially sensitive to. The Alfred Wegener Institute provides maps, data and information on Arctic and Antarctic sea ice and on the atmospheric circulation in the northern hemisphere, thus documenting sea ice development and detecting the interaction between the polar regions and the climate of the lower latitudes, e.g. the influence of Arctic sea ice coverage on European winter weather conditions. Such information is a contribution to the topic of climate change within ESKP.

Contact persons: Klaus Grosfeld, Renate Treffeisen

Further links: Sea Ice