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Polar aircraft Polar 5 starts Antarctic season

Reseach aircraft Polar 5, operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, took off towards Antarctica on Thursday November 12th.

Polar 5 will be used in three research programmes in the season 2009/10 and it will logistically support the established Antarctic flight network DROMLAN (Dronning Maud Land Air Network) as well as various field programmes. Including the flight towards Antarctica and back, Polar 5 will probably absolve around 375 flying hours in connection with the expedition.

The Novo Airfield near the Russian station Novolazareveskaya will serve the scientists from Alfred Wegener Institute and crew of the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air Limited as the base for two geophysical-glaciological projects in the first part of the season. The polar research aircraft of the Alfred Wegener Institute have been used to map the geological structures in the broader vicinity of the Neumayer Station above the ocean and the ice-covered inland for many years. The aim of these mappings is an improved and more detailed understanding of the break-up of the supercontinent Gondwana, and also to find out how the nowadays widely distributed fragments have been positioned to each other within Gondwana. For this reason, the area of investigation, which was focused mainly the continental area during the last campaigns, will be expanded towards the sea in the coming weeks. Therefore Polar 5 will be equipped among other instruments with a highly sensitive magnetometer system and a gravity meter, detecting geological structures of the Earth's crust.

Another survey will be continued in the second project, too. With the help of several other international Antarctic programmes, the researchers will close the gap between two high resolution radar profiles. Polar 5 is one of the few aircraft worldwide, equipped with a special ice radar, which is able to take off and land on the high-altitude of the East Antarctic ice shield. "The range of about 1500 km enables us to operate in this hardly accessible and so far insufficiently researched area," describes Dr Uwe Nixdorf the particularities of the campaign. He is head of logistics at the Alfred Wegener Institute. The two sections mapped by the Alfred Wegener Institute so far connect several ice core deep drill sites. If the radar profiles between the drill sites are known, the ice cores retrieved at these locations can directly be compared with each other. Furthermore, radar mappings between drill sites can help to deduce the spatial changes by means of the internal layers detected in the ice sheet. Both contribute to reconstructions of the climate conditions of the recent geological past and help to develop improved models for the projection of the effects of the current climate development.

In close collaboration with BAS (British Antarctic Survey), examinations of the atmospheric boundary layer above sea ice will be carried out in February and March 2010. For this purpose, flights starting from the British wintering station Rothera will be conducted over the western Weddell Sea, in part synchronous with a BAS operated Twin-Otter. In this campaign Polar 5 will be employed for the first time for atmospheric measurements in Antarctica. The researchers measure wind, temperature, and humidity in the near-surface atmosphere and also the degree of ice cover. Based on these data, interdependent processes as heat exchange between the ice-covered ocean and the atmosphere can be determined. This way, the implementation of these processes in weather forecast and climate models can be verified and improved. Furthermore, radiant flux will be measured to better depict the sea ice albedo (degree of reflection) depending on degree of ice cover in climate models. Different camera systems will be used during the survey. Their pictures are compared to radar satellite images. The aim is to improve analytical methods based on radar data. Transfer flights between Rothera and the target area are furthermore used for measurements above the Larsen ice shelf. Data on radiation balance and heat exchange with the atmosphere are collected, for example. These can help to make a contribution to the understanding of the massive melting of the ice shelf during the last years.

Polar 5 will shortly return to Bremerhaven in spring of 2010 for the preparation of the Arctic season 2010. The research aircraft is on display at the open house "Air 2010" at the regional airport Bremerhaven Luneort on the 3rd and 4th July 2010.

The Alfred Wegener Institute carries out research in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as in the high and mid latitude oceans. The institute coordinates German polar research and provides international science with important infrastructure, e.g. the research icebreaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of 16 research centres within the Helmholtz Association, Germany's largest scientific organization.

Margarete Pauls | idw
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