Permafrost experts of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research are currently conducting a multi-week spring expedition to the Lena Delta where they are investigating the interaction between the atmosphere, snow cover and the frozen earth of the tundra.
That they are able to live and conduct their research at less than spring temperatures of up to minus 30 degrees Celsius is attributable to the new Russian research station “Samoylov”. The impressive building was erected at the initiative of the Russian head of state Vladimir Putin and for one week has replaced the old German-Russian station from 1998 where scientists were only able to work in the short Siberian summer.
From the point of view of the permafrost researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, spring in the tundra is still one of the great unknowns. “In April and May the temperatures increase to above the zero mark. The ice on the lakes and ponds starts to break up and the snow cover begins to melt. Meltwater then penetrates virtually every pore, distributing heat and substances in the soil.
There are close-meshed interactions between the atmosphere, snow cover and the underlying permafrost ground. However, so far we have not been able to delve more deeply into these interactions because our old research station on the Island of Samoylov was too small. It could only be operated from July to September. The new station now offers so much space that no scientist need sleep in a tent again and experiments on the snow and ice melts are now possible“, says the head of the expedition Dr. Moritz Langer from the Potsdam Research Unit of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI). He and 13 colleagues were the first research team to install themselves in the new Russian Samoylov Station on Wednesday, 17 April 2013.
The Russian head of state Vladimir Putin commissioned the building after having visited the old station in the summer of 2010. Putin was impressed by the work of the team of German and Russian scientists and promised to improve their working conditions by building a new station. The responsibility for the operation and supply of the new building is borne by the Siberian Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SBRAS) – a long-standing partner of the Alfred Wegener Institute. Representatives of both research institutions recently entered into a cooperation agreement on scientific cooperation in Novosibirsk in the Arctic. They then signed a treaty on the operation of the new Samoylov station in March of this year.
The AWI scientists now live and work as guests at the modern Russian research station. It offers the researchers not only sufficient space for laboratory and sleeping, but also has a meeting room, a high performance internet connection, several machines with which soil samples can be taken from great depths, as well as a small technical equipment and vehicle pool which includes quads and snowmobiles, a track vehicle and several boats, providing the best foundation for informative field research in the Lena Delta.
The AWI permafrost researchers will be concentrating on one complex this spring: “We wish to understand how heat from the atmosphere penetrates the ground. To find this out we will be examining more closely how the snow distributes on the island, which profile, which thickness and which crystal structure the snow blanket has and how the thawing process functions”, explains Moritz Langer. The answers to these questions are to help better understand the physical processes in the permafrost soil and to be able to predict more precisely the future development of the permanently frozen regions.The permafrost regions of the Arctic have been increasingly moving into the focus of climate research in recent years. The reason for this is that as soon as the ground thaws, the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide are released. This is triggered by bacteria which start to decompose the animal and plant remains in the soil. Carbon dioxide and methane are created as produced in the metabolic process of almost all animals. If the ground now thaws as a result of climate change also in deeper layers or if the permafrost even disappears completely, the bacteria can also decompose the remains which have been stored in the deep frozen soils for thousands of years. This fact makes the permafrost soils a very interesting scientific element of the global climate system. The more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by the thawing soil, the stronger it heats up and the greater the probability that the temperature in regions with permafrost will rise and the permafrost soils will thaw even more expansively. In this case, scientists speak of a “positive feedback”.
Your scientific contact person at the Alfred Wegener Institute is Professor Dr Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, Head of the Research Unit Potsdam (phone +49 331 288-2100, e-mail: Hans-Wolfgang.Hubberten@awi.de). Scientists at Samoylov can be contacted via e-mail only. For enquiries to Dr Moritz Langer and his expedition team please contact Sina Löschke at the AWI Communications Department (phone +49 471 4831 2008, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).Follow the Alfred Wegener Institute on Twitter (https://twitter.com/AWI_de) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/AlfredWegenerInstitut) for all current news and information on everyday stories from the life of the Institute.
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