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The Wadden Sea and the Elbe Studied with Zeppelin, Drones and Research Ships


The 20th of September, 2017, marks the start of a special Wadden Sea and Elbe expedition under the leadership of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG). Scientists from the HZG and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) as well as from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig will be analysing the Elbe to improve future flood scenario predictions. The scientists will also study how the large-scale expansion of offshore wind energy installations affects the North Sea. They will use a Zeppelin, drones as well as several research ships as observatories. Data from measurement stations will be analysed at the same time.

Climate change, offshore wind parks, input from agriculture or from hydraulic engineering influence the life in and around the Elbe and Wadden Sea. Prognoses on the extent of environmental change, however, remain uncertain. Dr Holger Brix, HZG coastal researcher explains:

The research vessel Ludwig Prandtl (Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht)

HZG/Christian Schmid

In 2016 Coastal Researchers from HZG used a Zeppelin for the first time

HZG/Dr. Torsten Fischer

“The environment is so complex in coastal and riverine regions that only processes in parts of the system can be studied. By using different measurement devices and instruments simultaneously, we want to better comprehend the complicated processes associated with heavy rains in the Elbe river basin.” The measurements taken on the Elbe are a further test of the measurement methods and the rapid data exchange between the different platforms.

One of the topics deals with how nutrients are transported via precipitation, plants and soil into the rivers and ultimately into the North Sea as well as how they influence the growth of marine algae there. “Combined real-time data from the land surface, water and the atmosphere provide us with a much more comprehensive picture of the links. The data is globally unique in this form,” explains Dr Brix.

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Planned Schedule
The first stations for the expedition taking place on September 20th, 2017, will be a wind farm off Helgoland, the island of Neuwerk and the Elbe estuary. A zeppelin, the HZG research ship Ludwig Prandtl and the AWI research vessel Uthörn as well as stationary instruments will examine how the expansion of offshore wind power can alter current behaviour, nutrient transport and algal growth in the North Sea.

The zeppelin will fly from Cuxhaven over Hamburg Harbour on September 21st, 2017, arrive in Geesthacht around 11:30 AM, continue up-river along the Elbe, past Lauenburg to Cumlosen in Lower Saxony and finally back via Hamburg to Uetersen Airport.

Among other activities, the UFZ’s research ship Albis will concurrently take water samples in the river cross section for biogeochemical measurements between Wittenberge to the Geesthacht locks. Schnackenburg or Cumlosen are possible meeting places for the zeppelin and the research ship Albis between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM.

Invitation for Media Representatives
On September 20st, 2017, at 4:30 PM, scientists are available for interviews, and photos can be taken with the zeppelin at Uetersen Airport. Please note: due to wind and weather conditions the zeppelin's arrival could be shifted. We will keep you informed of the current situation after you register.

Registration by email is required:

We are happy to provide footage and image material on request.

Further Information
MOSES (Modular Observation Solutions for Earth Systems) is a Helmholtz Association project that studies processes that take place in complex event chains and that link the oceans, coasts, land surfaces and atmosphere. The HZG is involved in two event chains. On the one hand, the HZG oversees the “ocean eddies” event chain, in which researchers make use of a zeppelin, airplanes, speedboats and autonomous diving robots and develop numerous measurement methods.

Led by Prof Burkard Baschek, Institute Director at the Institute of Coastal Research, scientists at the HZG used a zeppelin for the first time to successfully measure ocean eddies in 2016. This time around, the special cameras will examine mudflats and the Elbe. Among other instruments, an infrared camera on board the zeppelin generates water surface temperature maps recording fifty images per second. The thermal imaging camera measures even the smallest temperature differences of 0.03 degrees Celsius.
The HZG also participates in the "Hydrological Extremes" event chain, which aims to monitor the effects of a severe rain event from the atmosphere to the land surface, into the Elbe and the North Sea.

For this purpose, the first measurements will be carried out jointly with AWI and UFZ in order to draw a comparison with normal conditions. The emphasis lies in the numerous biogeochemical processes, which are vitally important in the Elbe – the interaction of nutrients, oxygen and productivity are of particular interest.

A zeppelin, the three research ships Ludwig Prandtl (HZG), ALBIS (UFZ) and Uthörn (AWI) are used as instrument platforms. Furthermore, measurements are taken at the permanent stations operated by COSYNA (Coastal Observing System for Northern and Arctic Seas) in Cuxhaven and at the underwater node in Helgoland.

The underwater node provides a permanent power and data connection at a water depth of approximately eleven metres to connect scientific instruments and to operate them remotely. Thus, for example, current, salinity and oxygen as well as fish and soil-dwelling animals can be continuously recorded and studied over the course of the annual cycle. The data sets obtained in this way are an important basis for addressing questions on the change of environmental conditions in the North Sea. The underwater node was developed by AWI and the HZG and began operation in 2012.

The UFZ research ship ALBIS studies the spatial and temporal variability of material input from the Middle Elbe into the tidal area during low water conditions. The scientists take water samples in the river cross section between Magdeburg and the Geesthacht locks, process them directly in the ship’s laboratory and examine them, for example, for nutrients, organic cumulative parameters and trace elements.

Optical measurements of the water and the surface of the mud flats can meanwhile be recorded by satellite – and most importantly by a zeppelin in extremely high resolution. In order to ensure a correct interpretation of the data, comparative measurements on the ground and in the water are necessary. These measurements are carried out by the HZG in the Elbe estuary and at the mud flats off Otterndorf.

Measuring the Mud Flat Region: The position and condition of tidal channels, mussel and tempestite banks, sea grass inventories and beach areas as well as the morphological changes in the mud flats and the development of vegetation on the islands can be recorded from the zeppelin. The related data is analysed on Neuwerk, Scharhörn and Nigehörn by the Wadden Sea National Park in Hamburg.

Current Measurements. The latest developments in drone technology can be used in combination with radar measurement methods to carry out high-resolution current measurements from the air. These are undertaken by the HZG near Lauenburg by the zeppelin, drones and the small research vessel Zwergseeschwalbe (HZG).

The expedition has been made possible through the new initiative MOSES: A total of twenty-eight million Euros has been made available to the participating research centres for MOSES development and operation. Within the framework of MOSES, the first expedition involves more than twenty researchers. With the novel, mobile and modular MOSES concept, dynamic and long-term observation methods are to be directly linked with one another for the first time and to be used at short notice during flood events.

Weitere Informationen: further information about the expedition on the HZG-Website

Dr. Torsten Fischer | Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht - Zentrum für Material- und Küstenforschung

Further reports about: AWI Atmosphere Helmholtz-Zentrum Ships UFZ Wadden Sea

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