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Fifty years of sampling at Heligoland Roads

Marine data for climate modelers, biologists and structural engineers
“Data from the Heligoland Roads marine sampling site are of immense importance for sustainability considerations of future generations.” With these words the Parliamentary State Secretary to the German Federal Minister of Education and Research, Dr. Helge Braun took celebratory the water sample marking the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Heligoland Roads sampling series. Dr. Braun honoured the long-term motivation of the Biological Station at Heligoland at the German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association.

The first measurements of temperature and salinity were made in 1873 on the then British Island of Heligoland and carried on intermittently thereafter. When in 1962 catastrophic storm surges resulted in immense loss of life in coastal communities and when scientists realized that relatively little was known about the state of the North Sea the Biological Station of Heligoland restarted the daily marine monitoring programme at Heligoland Roads, which runs unbroken to the present day.

Storms and frozen harbours are about the only things which can prevent the little research vessel “Aade” taking its daily sample. The crew are a hardy team bracing the elements on the open deck to make sure that no sample goes missing in such a historical time series.
“The long time span and extraordinary detail allow us to differentiate between natural variability and human-induced trends,” explains Professor Dr. Karen Wiltshire - the Head of the Biological Station on Heligoland.

A mean temperature increase of 1.7 degrees celcius has been recorded for the past 50 years. Increasing Salinity and greater water clarity are measured and can be related to a shift in currents and the degree of Atlantic influence on the North Sea. Overall the greatest shifts, also in species diversity have been seen since the late eighties. The seasonality of microalgae, at the base of the food web has moved and those organisms which depend on them for food are “mismatched” in time. This means that the composition of the zooplankton, which in turn is food for fish also has shifted. The whole food web has changed.

“In order to understand the complex interactions in our oceans, we need long term research,” states Professor Dr. Karin Lochte, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute. “Under the umbrella of the Helmholtz Association we are in the privileged position to sustain such long and detailed time series. These serve as a fundament to societally relevant science, facilitating a solid analyses of potential human impacts on our oceans.”

Over three million data points are currently archived for Heligoland Roads in the “ World Data Bank” PANGAEA at the Alfred Wegener Institute. Roughly 10 Heligoland Roads data queries a week are logged. Interest ranges from climate modelers, who need them to check their models through biologists who need them to answer questions on marine food webs, to structural engineers who need data on ocean chemistry for concrete structures.

Long Term Data scientists from all over the world are meeting on Heligoland to discourse on ocean change until the 20th of September in celebratory scientific Symposium at the Biologische Anstalt Helgoland.

Notes for Editors: Your contact person is Professor Dr Karen Wiltshire (phone +49 (0)4725 819-3238; e-mail: Your contact person in the Communications Department of the Alfred Wegener Institute is Dr Folke Mehrtens (phone +49 (0)471 4831-2007; e-mail: Please find printable images on our website:

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Ralf Röchert | EurekAlert!
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