Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Winter experiment planned in the Antarctic ice

The research vessel Polarstern leaves for the South Polar Sea on an 18-month long expedition.

The research ship POLARSTERN sets off in the early morning hours of 27 October 2012 for an unusual expedition to the Antarctic. This time the ship will not be returning to Bremerhaven as usual at the end of the Antarctic summer, but will be spending the winter in the South Polar Sea for research purposes. There are only a few ships throughout the world with which scientists can risk a winter expedition of this type in the Antarctic.

Route of POLARSTERN's winter experiment, scheduled from 8 June until 12 August 2013
© Alfred Wegener Institute

The so-called winter experiment is the climax of an 18-month long expedition in the southern hemisphere and will take the ship, its crew and the 54 scientists on board from Cape Town, South Africa to the Antarctic Weddell Sea. “We wish to investigate two fundamental research questions during this trip. The first one is which mechanisms bring the ecosystem of the South Polar Sea back to life after the long, cold and extremely dark winter? And secondly, why does the spread of the Antarctic sea ice increase slightly whilst the sea ice cover in the Arctic is constantly on the retreat?“, explains the chief scientist Prof. Dr. Peter Lemke from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association.

Up to now scientists have not had enough data to answer these questions because the winter in the Weddell Sea is one of persistently long darkness, very strong winds and temperatures of up to minus 40 degrees Celsius. “Several severe storms per week are not rare at this time of year and are, of course, one of the reasons why hardly no ships stay in the Antarctic in winter“, explains Peter Lemke.

The physicist and climate expert has already led one winter experiment of the POLARSTERN in 1992. During its fourth winter cruise in total, 21 years later, the ship will follow virtually the same route. However, the research approach this time is far more interdisciplinary: “During this expedition we will have scientists from all major scientific disciplines on board because we wish to tackle our two main questions in close cooperation and be able to answer the questions as comprehensively as possible at the end of the expedition“, according to Peter Lemke.

For the research icebreaker POLARSTERN the coming winter cruise will be the fifth of this type. The last time the ship spent the winter months of 2006 in the Weddell Sea. “During the expedition at that time we learned that the biology in the sea and ice is already in full swing in September and October, i.e. in the middle of the Antarctic winter, and the question to arise was what exactly causes the start of the ecosystem into the new season?“, says Peter Lemke.

This time the scientists are travelling earlier to the frozen Weddell Sea: “We wish to use the darkness of the polar night so as to travel into the spring from the south more or less with the rising sun and to see how the ecosystem starts the new season“, explains Peter Lemke.

However, before Polarstern starts out on its winter experiment on 8 June 2013 in Cape Town, the ship has five other cruise legs. On the first leg, the transfer from Bremerhaven to Cape Town, some 30 young scientists from eleven different universities and research institutes will have the opportunity to collect data and samples for an interdisciplinary research and training programme called “Pelagic Biodiversity of the Atlantic Ocean“. Following this the ship will head for the Atka Bay in the Weddell Sea to unload new snow vehicles, spare parts and the annual rations of food and fuel for the Neumayer III research station.

A so-called ice digger is on board for the first time which is to be used for research on huge ice floes. Contrary to traditional construction vehicles, the machine measuring around one times two metres does not have an excavator bucket but is equipped with an ice drill. The ice digger is to drill around 80 centimetre wide holes in the ice which then serve the research divers as starting point for investigations below the ice.

Notes for Editors:

The 18-month expedition is divided into ten cruise legs. A complete schedule is available on the internet at Excerpts from a lengthy video interview (in German language) with Professor Dr Peter Lemke is available at Please find printable images in the online version of this press release at

Your contact person at the Alfred Wegener Institute is Sina Löschke, Dept. of Communications and Media Relations (phone: +49 (0)471 4831-2008, e-mail:

Follow the Alfred Wegener Institute on Twitter ( and Facebook ( for all current news items and information on small everyday stories from the life of the Institute (in German language).

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Ralf Röchert | idw
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>