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RV Polarstern on its way into the Antarctic

Journey through the polar South Pacific up to New Zealand

Research vessel Polarstern will start its journey October 16th from Bremerhaven to its 26th expedition into Antarctica. The expedition consists of four legs and leads Polarstern, operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, at first to Punta Arenas.

Researchers from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University (IFM-GEOMAR), from the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (IfT) Leipzig, from GKSS Research Centre Geesthacht and from the Alfred Wegner Institute will further develop the system OCEANET during the first and last leg which is meant to experimentally collect data on mass and energy exchange between the ocean and atmosphere. The aim is to autonomously measure important environmental parameters onboard available cargo- and research vessels.

Mainly marine geologists will come aboard in Chile at the end of November to cross the polar South Pacific on Polarstern for the first time ever. 43 researchers and technicians around cruise leader Dr. Rainer Gersonde from the Alfred Wegener Institute want to take marine geological samples at 40 sites to collect data on the last million years of climate history by means of deep sea deposits. The analysis happens within the framework of national and international projects. The researchers want to determine the role of the polar South Pacific on the development of global climatic processes. This area of bad weather has so far rarely been investigated. As a formation site of deep and intermediate water masses it transports nutrients and cold water into the northern hemisphere and influences the climate of the earth. It is a key region for investigations on the stability of the West Antarctic ice shield in the course of past glacial and interglacial periods because the polar South Pacific borders in the South on the West Antarctic ice masses. This ice shield is considered unstable under warm climate conditions; its melting could cause a rise of the global sea level from three to five metres. Next to taking probes for climate and sea level related questions, the only known impact area in the ocean of an asteroid one kilometre big is investigated. The geoscientific work includes seismic profiles in order to make a proposal for a deep sea drilling location in the framework of the international "Integrated Ocean Drilling Program" (IODP). The Antarctic climate and glaciation history of the last 40 million years is meant to be documented by means of this drilling.

After two months, the second leg of the journey will end in Wellington, where the German embassy will give a welcome on the occasion of Polarstern's first running into port in New Zealand. The third leg of the journey will begin at the end of January which will lead back to Chile on a more southerly route than the one before. Polarstern will enter port in Punta Arenas again at the start of April 2010. Then it will make its way back to Bremerhaven where it is expected May 17th 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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