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The ice opens the way

Bremerhaven climate scientists take part in project on opportunities and risks of future Arctic use

The extent of sea ice in the Arctic has substantially declined to a possibly record-breaking magnitude this summer so that both the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage are navigable.

For climate scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research these changes in the northern polar region are a good reason to conduct research on the prospects and consequences of increased commercial use of the Arctic. ACCESS is the name of this forward-looking project whose second workshop takes place in Bremen on 5 and 6 September.

This summer the Arctic is undergoing an above-average decline in sea ice for the fifth time in succession. Current observations and assessments of climate scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association indicate that we are approaching the record negative mark reached in 2007. “This development does not surprise us. The decline this summer fits in with the trend since 2007. We now have very little ice in the Arctic. Not only is the extent of the ice diminishing, but also the ice thickness,” says Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Gerdes, sea ice expert at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

Wherever ice disappears, new ways open up for people to move in and through the Arctic. This summer, for instance, both the Northwest Passage and the maritime route north of Russia are ice-free. As the scientists are aware, this is a situation that raises interest: “Now there are totally new opportunities for making commercial use of the Arctic,” says Gerdes. He sees potential for changes in particular in maritime shipping, the tourism sector, fishery and in the exploitation of resources. “Of course, the decline in ice also enables access to resources that were previous inaccessible – not only on the seafloor, but also on shore since shipping routes are now available for transporting resources away,” explains the sea ice expert.

Gerdes and his colleagues already note a certain optimistic mood in the economy. Gerdes: “Our work is very much in demand and it’s noticeable that interest in sea ice forecasts is now also emerging in sectors with which we don’t associate this at all. Economists or fishery biologists suddenly want to know from us how sea ice will change.”

The climate researchers are therefore joining forces with 26 partners from nine European countries in the new project “ACCESS: Arctic Climate Change, Economy and Society“. Divided into five working groups, the researchers want to find answers to the following three key questions: What will transportation, tourism, fishery and resource exploitation in the Arctic be like in the future? What risks do these developments hold for nature and humanity and by means of which regulations can these risks be minimised?

The climate scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute apply their core competencies in this endeavour. They supply the other ACCESS project partners with climate observations, model calculations and sea ice predictions. On the one hand, these forecasts and climate scenarios are based on satellite data and, on the other hand, on ice observations and thickness measurements that the researchers carry out during their regular expeditions to the Arctic.

First of all, however, it is important for Gerdes to find a solid basis for talks. For this reason he invites the public to the ACCESS workshop at “Haus der Wissenschaft“ in Bremen on 5 and 6 September. “We want to show non-experts what function climate models serve, where there is uncertainty and what we can obtain from the calculated scenarios,” says the sea ice physicist.

Other German partners in the ACCESS project include the German Aerospace Centre, the Hamburg Ship Model Basin as well as the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. The French Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) has assumed overall management.

Facts about the workshop
ACCESS Meeting, Workshop on Climate Scenarios and Climate Simulation
5 and 6 September 2011 in Bremen
Haus der Wissenschaft, Sandstrasse 4/5, 28195 Bremen
Notes for editorial offices:
Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Gerdes will be available for interviews on both workshop days. You will find printable pictures at
Your contact in the Communication and Media Department of the Alfred Wegener Institute is Sina Löschke (tel.: 0471 4831-2008; e-mail:
The ACCESS website will be activated for the general public in the course of the workshop. Should you be interested prior to the event, we would be glad to furnish you with the access data.

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and middle latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the seventeen research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Margarete Pauls | idw
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