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Helgoland strengthened as location for marine research

AWI Centre for Scientific Diving opened after complete revamping

Bigger, more attractive and geared to the relevant scientific requirements: the Centre for Scientific Diving of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research at the Biological Institute Helgoland. More than 1500 scientific diving operations a year in all oceans, particularly in the Arctic and Antarctic, make diving-aided research a crucial method applied at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

Now divers and scientists have even better conditions for training and research. The AWI Centre for Scientific Diving, one of the biggest professional diving facilities for scientific investigations, has undergone expansion and modernisation in the past eleven months.

On Thursday, 23 September 2010 it will be officially opened by Prof. Karin Lochte, director of the Alfred Wegener Institute. At the same time 12 divers will receive their certificates as “Certified Research Diver” and “European Scientific Diver“.

“We are very glad about our contribution to further developing Helgoland as a major location for marine research in Germany by expanding and modernising the AWI Centre for Scientific Diving,” states Prof. Karen H. Wiltshire, director of the Biological Institute Helgoland.

Besides revamping the actual building, it was especially important to modernise the technical equipment. Now a three by four metre saltwater test pool with a depth of three metres is available in the diving preparation section. “When we send out a scientific diver on the Polarstern, it is a very expensive operation and every move on site has to be well-rehearsed. In the test pool we can practise even the most complicated operations,” says Prof. Philipp Fischer, since 2006 scientific head of the AWI Centre for Scientific Diving and fish ecologist at the Biological Institute Helgoland. For instance, a colleague had to mount and adjust a gas collection device at methane outlet points underwater. “The water in this region was extremely turbid. In the preparation phase we bonded the plates of the diving masks and practised until every move could be virtually carried out blindfolded. It is almost like space travel where the astronauts have to practise even the smallest step for six months or more.”

Thanks to the modernisation, the AWI Centre for Scientific Diving enables scientific diving at the highest international level. “In addition to training our own divers, we can increasingly train research divers from Germany and abroad on Helgoland and develop junior scientific specialists,” says Fischer. There is a great demand since the use of research vessels and diving robots (remotely operated vehicles – ROVs) is expensive and not possible in all waters. This is the reason behind the pronounced rise in scientific diving internationally. Particularly in shallow coastal waters, for example, there is a need for scientific divers to carry out targeted and environmentally friendly sampling at a depth of 20 to 30 metres.

Due to Helgoland’s unique location as an island far off the German coast, in the middle of the North Sea, a region that is significantly threatened by climate change, Fischer and his team see Helgoland as a “hot spot” of marine research. “There are many experiments we can’t simulate in the lab when we want to understand complex systems. Then we have to move the diverse capabilities and facilities of our laboratory directly to the water, as in the case of the new MarGate underwater experimental field.” He personally has developed a large number of his ideas underwater, says Fischer. Scientists can, of course, also examine samples on shore or watch underwater video recordings. In the end, however, these recordings are always merely two-dimensional. “Anyone able to immerse himself/herself in the underwater world and conduct research directly in the water will develop a very different feeling and thus another understanding of the complex systems in the oceans.”

The AWI Centre for Scientific Diving was expanded by 90 m² altogether from approx. 280 m² to approx. 370 m² of useful area. After this expansion of the building there are now four offices, a meeting/common room and a resting room on the first floor. On the ground floor the sanitary areas were partitioned off and the technical building equipment was refurbished. Furthermore, new windows were installed, the outside walls were insulated and painted blue. A solar system on the roof provides for water heating. The complete revamping was supported by the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein with funding of 850,000 euros from Economic Stimulus Package II. The total costs come to approx. 1,150,000 euros.

All diving activities at the Alfred Wegener Institute are carried out according to the guidelines for scientific diving “GUV-R2112 – assignment of research divers”. As a certified training centre for scientific diving, the Alfred Wegener Institute is a member of the German professional association for scientific diving, “Kommission Forschungstauchen Deutschland e.V.“. Germany is a member of the European Scientific Diving Panel of the Marine Board of the European Science Foundation – a central organisation for the regulation of scientific diving in Europe. In accordance with the ESDP guidelines, the Alfred Wegener Institute provides training according to the European standards for “European Scientific Diver” and “Advanced European Scientific Diver”.

Notes for Editors

Event note: Opening of Centre for Scientific Diving, Am Binnenhafen, Helgoland on Thursday, 23 September 2010 from 10:30 am (to approx. 4:00 pm). Journalists are cordially invited to take part in the opening ceremony.

Your contacts at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Dr. Philipp Fischer (phone: 04725 819-3344; e-mail: as well as in the Communication and Media Department Stephanie von Neuhoff (phone: 0471 4831-2008; e-mail:

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and mid latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the sixteen research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Margarete Pauls | idw
Further information:

Further reports about: AWI Antarctic Predators Diving Helgoland Marine science Polarstern marine research

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