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Research Vessel Polarstern starts 24th Arctic Season

The German research vessel Polarstern, operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, will begin its 24th Arctic expedition on Saturday, June 20th.

119 scientists from seven different nations will research the whole spectrum of current Arctic topics in three journey stages: climate history and current climate development, effects on the ecosystem ranging from bacteria to marine mammals, and also geoscientific questions regarding sediment structure and tectonics of the Arctic. Polarstern is expected back in Bremerhaven September 25th.

The first journey stage will lead the researchers via the Greenland Sea and the Fram Strait to Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen. The area has increasingly come into the centre of attention of oceanographic research because oceanic key processes happen there and because the region reacts extremely sensitive towards climate change. Moorings of long-term measurements are, among other things, exchanged there and data on temperature and salinity of the ocean are gained - long-term measurements of this kind are indispensible for climate related marine research. Examinations on geology and the Arctic ecosystem are also conducted.

The second journey stage begins on July 10th and is concentrated on two study areas, the so-called Hausgarten and the Hakon-Mosby mud volcano. The Hausgarten is a deep sea long-term observatory consisting nowadays of 16 stations along a depth profile ranging from 1.200 to 5.500 metres. Moorings are deployed at selected positions along the 2.500 m depth line which are annually exchanged since 1999 in the summer months. The samples and measurement data gained this way document the influence of climate changes and their consequences for the region of the Arctic deep sea and its living organisms. The Hausgarten is an important part of numerous European research projects by now, because just a few comparable multidisciplinary long-term examinations exist. The Hakon-Mosby mud volcano lies in 1.250 m water depth at the Norwegian continental shelf of the south-western Barent Sea and has regularly been explored in the past by Polarstern expeditions. A long-term observatory to continually measure geological, physical, chemical and biological parameters in combination will be installed this year to understand mud volcanism. The Hakon-Mosby mud volcano is a specifically chosen examination area of various EU projects.

The third and last journey stage begins on August 5th in Reykjavik (Iceland) and concentrates on geoscientific questions. The exact study area for the geoscientific measurements in the western Greenland Sea is dependent on Arctic ice cover in this summer. Seismologic examinations are meant to deliver new insights into the geological history of the East Greenland shelf. Researchers from Belgium will also count birds and whales in the framework of a long-term project to document their distribution, just like in the first journey stage. RV Polarstern is expected to enter port in Bremerhaven on September 25th.

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 15 research centres within the Helmholtz Association, Germany's largest scientific organization.

Margarete Pauls | idw
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