On Friday, 28 October 2011 the research icebreaker Polarstern sets off on its 28th Antarctic expedition. Over 200 scientists and technicians from research institutions in 14 countries will take part in the five expedition legs. They will examine a wide variety of topics: oceanography and marine chemistry, atmospheric research and the biology of bacteria, tiny algae and animals all the way to crustaceans, fish and whales. Moreover, the Polarstern will supply Neumayer Station III in Antarctica with material, provisions and personnel.
The first leg of the expedition will take the vessel from Bremerhaven to Cape Town. On the way from the temperate latitudes through the subtropics and tropics researchers will investigate the material flows between ocean and atmosphere in the various climate zones. They want to find out more about how, for example, varying air humidity, cloud cover and temperature influence one another and how much radiation energy reaches the Earth's and the ocean surface. The incident radiation energy is the driving force for most physical processes in the Earth's climate system. On this leg, furthermore, technical scientific equipment (hydroacoustic, IT and communication systems, etc.) will be tried out, calibrated and tested. This is a major prerequisite for meeting the high demands placed on the measured data gained in this way.
Whales are a subject of study for the Oceanic Acoustics team at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. Last year researchers for the first time put out a recorder that records whale songs around 700 kilometres off the coast of Namibia. Since visual observations of whales in the enormous oceans are rare, the bioacoustics experts wish to collect information on which species occur when in areas only presumed to be the mating grounds of blue and fin whales up to now. Since the behaviour-specific calls, such as during mating, are known, the researchers can also tell whether the whales are just passing through or really reproducing there. In this way they want to make a major contribution to learning more about the seasonal occurrence and reproduction behaviour of these baleen whales. This first leg of the expedition ends on 1 December 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa.
From there Polarstern will then head for Neumayer Station III in the Antarctic for supply and disposal purposes and then return to Cape Town from there. The following legs of the expedition in the Southern Ocean as of the beginning of 2012 will involve studies on the global carbon cycle. Interdisciplinary research teams will examine the physical, chemical and biological processes that drive the carbon pumps in the Southern Ocean and particularly in the numerous gyre systems there. Among other things, the focus will be on the role of microorganisms that play a significant role in carbon turnover. The investigations will also look at species diversity, distribution and frequency of animals and plants in the Antarctic deep sea. Additional calls at Punta Arenas (Chile) are planned before the Polarstern returns to its home port of Bremerhaven in May 2012.