The RV Polarstern research icebreaker has set sail for the Arctic to investigate the effects of environmental changes on the Arctic’s deep-sea ecosystem.
Polarstern, a research vessel of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, set sail on May 24 and for the next month will be positioned in Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard.
According to AWI, more than 50 participating scientists will resume the long-term observations that began at the AWI Hausgarten observatory more than 20 years ago.
“Our aim is to identify and quantify the changes in the ecosystem, and to investigate feedback effects on oceanographic processes,” explained Dr Thomas Soltwedel, a deep-sea biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, and chief scientist of the expedition.
“Our investigations include identifying spatial and temporal changes in the functions of selected plankton and benthic communities,” added Soltwedel, who heads the Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology section at the AWI. In the future, the observation data will become part of a comprehensive repository that is now being created.
In addition, the expedition will be used to set up further installations as part of the FRAM (FRontiers in Arctic marine Monitoring) Ocean Observing System. FRAM will make continuous investigations from the ocean’s surface to the deep sea possible and provide timely data on Earth system dynamics, and on changes in the climate and ecosystems.
“The data from the observing system will contribute to a better understanding of changes in ocean circulation, the characteristics of the water masses, and sea ice retreat, as well as their impact on the Arctic’s marine ecosystem,” added Soltwedel.
The team will employ not only an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), but also various autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that operate in the water column as well as on the ocean floor (benthic crawler). Moreover, the researchers will investigate the inputs of plastic waste into the ocean. To do so, they will monitor vertical flows of plastics from the surface to the ocean floor and the interactions between plastics and marine organisms.
Polarstern is expected back in its home port of Bremerhaven on June 28.