Polarstern on the way to cold water corals

22nd Arctic expedition to northern Norway and Spitzbergen started

Shrimp on a sponge in the "home garden". © Michael Klages, Alfred Wegener Institute
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After a major overhaul, the Polarstern is on its way again today. The 22nd Arctic Expedition will take the German research icebreaker first to northern Norway and Spitsbergen. One of the scientific priorities is the European project HERMES (Hotspot Ecosystem Research on the Margins of European Seas), which investigates deep-sea ecosystems. The researchers are particularly interested in cold water corals and the Håkon Mosby mud volcano.

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The expedition takes around 130 scientists from eleven countries off the coast of northern Norway. Goal of the first stage under the scientific direction of Prof. Dr. med. Jörn Thiede, director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, are the cold water corals. These specialists build - similar to their tropical relatives - reefs from their Kalkskeletten. They form unique ecosystems in which researchers have already been able to detect more than 600 different species of animals locally. With the help of the manned underwater vehicle JAGO from IFM-GEOMAR, the coral reefs are to be examined, photographed and sampled up to a depth of 400 meters.

Mud volcano and "home garden"

The second stage will be led by Dr. med. Michael Klages (AWI) to the Håkon Mosby mud volcano, a submarine outlet of a methane source at 1, 250 meters of water off the Norwegian coast. The investigations at the mud volcano are carried out among other things with the help of the remotely controlled underwater vehicle QUEST of the MARUM of the University of Bremen. QUEST is also used during the third stage in the so-called home garden.

The home garden of the Alfred Wegener Institute is one of ten deep-sea observatories of the ESONET (European Seas Observatory NETwork) network of excellence funded by the European Union. In addition to a standard program, which involves picking up and deploying anchorages and free-fall landings, QUEST experiments are carried out under natural environmental conditions in the deep sea and specific samples are taken. display

HERMES compares across Europe

The investigations on the cold water corals, the mud volcano Håkon Mosby and in the home garden are part of the European project HERMES. The project contributes to the International Polar Year and aims to gain new insights into the biodiversity, structure, function and dynamics of diverse ecosystems along the European continental margin. The results can feed into the future guidelines of a European maritime policy.

For the first time, HERMES is trying to compare deep-sea ecosystems across Europe. The results will be incorporated into models that can be used to simulate essential functional processes in these sensitive systems. Selected, diverse ecosystems from Spitsbergen in the north along the Norwegian continental margin to the Black Sea are being studied.

"Hot spots" in the sights

Free-fall Lander. Michael Klages, Alfred Wegener Institute

A special focus is on so-called "hotspots". Scientists understand this to mean highly physically controlled systems, such as unstable continental slopes, deep-sea torrents, deep-water coral, cold seepage, or oxygen-free, bacterial populations. These communities are characterized by particularly dynamic boundary conditions. They are considered very sensitive to local disturbances or worldwide changes. Also due to their global importance regarding the carbon cycle, they should be intensively researched, "says Klages, scientific director of the second and third stage of this expedition.

The now started section ends on 25 July in Troms . Next, the Polarstern will launch into the eastern sector of the Arctic to investigate the state of the entire Arctic Ocean in rapid climate change in conjunction with other research icebreakers operating simultaneously in other sectors of the Arctic.

(Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, 29.05.2007 - AHE)