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Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research

Unravelling hidden messages in the oceans and in the ice

From the Arctic ice to the bottom of the oceans: Helmholtz scientists working at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven study the poles, the oceans and the climate. Their research often takes them along exciting and hazardous routes. Their goal is to unravel the changes, partly natural and partly caused by humans, taking place in the global environment and in System Earth.

The AWI works in the following three scientific topic fields

  • Geoscientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute are reconstructing the history of the polar continents and seas. They study sedimentation history, the processes of deposition and geological transformation in the oceans, marine bio-geochemical cycles, and the paleoclimate of the polar regions. Glaciologists are working on the reconstruction of climate history from ice cores, researching the mass balance and the dynamics of the large ice masses in Greenland and the Antarctic, as well as their interactions with the global climate. Seismic measurements and the identification of anomalies in the Earth's gravitational and magnetic field provide the scientists with valuable information about the structure of the Arctic and Antarctic continental shelves. Atmospheric chemists at AWI are unravelling the chemical processes in the troposphere and stratosphere that determine our environment.
  • The division Bioscience deals with ecological, physiological and ecotoxicological topics. Shelf and coastal waters of the polar seas as well as coastal waters of the North Sea are the areas of major interest. Central themes are the reactions of cells, individuals, populations and communities towards external influences, and organization and dynamics of populations, communities and ecosystems.
  • Studies in the Climate Science department of the Alfred Wegener Institute focus on the coupled ocean-ice-atmosphere system and its importance for the global climate. AWI researchers conduct field measurements and numerical simulations related to oceanic circulation, transport of substances and energy in polar seas and the polar atmosphere, as well as related to the influence of these processes on the global climate system. Oceanographic studies concentrate on the modification of water masses in the Weddell and North Polar Seas and on the spreading of deep and bottom waters into the world ocean. Atmospheric studies focus on the investigation of climate relevant processes on different scales in space and time. In addition, variations in the concentration of climate-forcing trace gases and aerosols and their impact on the Earth's radiation balance are investigated.

Scientific research with an icebreaker

Their research work often takes the Helmholtz scientists from Bremerhaven out to sea or even direct to the ice at the North and South Poles. An icebreaker serves as their No. 1 mobile research platform: The research and supply ship "Polarstern". Research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic make it possible to take meteorological and geophysical measurements all year round. In addition, the Helmholtz Centre operates three research ships which study more moderate climes, as well as two polar aircraft.

The AWI has a total of 778 staff and its head office in Bremerhaven. This Helmholtz Centre also maintains a Research Institute in Potsdam (Forschungsstelle Potsdam), a Biological Institute on Helgoland (Biologische Anstalt Helgoland - BAH) and a Tideland Station on Sylt (Wattenmeerstation Sylt).

In addition to performing basic and applied research, the AWI also plays a coordinating role, offers advice and consultancy, and provides special services. These responsibilities focus on biological monitoring, on providing scientific-technical support for German polar research, and on giving advice to the German government.

Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)

AWI in figures


the AWI was founded


research vessels are owned by the AWI


branch offices: In Potsdam, on Helgoland and on Sylt.


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Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research

Am Handelshafen 12
27570 Bremerhaven Postal address:
Postfach 120161 27515 Bremerhaven GERMANY

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