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R.V. Polarstern icebreaker

The icebreaker R.V. Polarstern operates on average 310 days a year, typically cruising in the Antarctic from November to March and pursuing research in the Arctic during the summer months. In the process, she covers ca. 50,000 nautical miles every year which is equivalent of two trips around the Equator. A veritable powerhouse, the research icebreaker can even operate in the pack ice zone: a double-walled steel hull and 20,000 horsepower allow her to easily break through 1.5 meter thick ice while thicker ice can be overcome by ramming. Further, the Polarstern is equipped for sustained operations at temperatures down to -50 degrees Celsius, and can even overwinter in the ice of the polar seas.

In 1978 Germany’s Federal Government under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt provided 110 million German marks in funding for the construction of a polar research vessel. The request for tenders for the ship’s construction opened in June 1979 and was based on tests conducted at the Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA). Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (now ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems) in Kiel and Werft Nobiskrug in Rendsburg ultimately won the contract.

“Do we want a bucket or a solid, presentable ship for German Antarctic research?” When in July 1978 Bundestag parliamentarian Horst Grunenberg posed this question to Helmut Schmidt, the German Chancellor at that time, he laid the foundation for the success story of the research icebreaker Polarstern. That same night, in fact, the Chancellor doubled the planned investment amount for the research vessel. Dr. Christian Salewski, archivist at the archives for German polar research based at the Alfred Wegener Institute, has compiled this and other milestones of the over 30-year history of Polarstern.

Before construction of the research icebreaker can commence, designs have to be drafted and different models have to be compared. Given that she is also expected to withstand journeys through pack ice, the ship’s structural integrity is a primary concern. From 1980 to 1982, the consortium "Polar Research Ship" built the icebreaker with the support of the HSVA, the engineering firm Schiffko and the Central Office for Marine and Mechanical Engineering at the Waterways and Shipping Directorate North. Total construction costs amounted to 188 million marks (over 96 million euros).

The June 1979 invitation to tender for construction of the polar research vessel is based on studies by Hamburgische Schiffbau-Versuchsanstalt (HSVA). This research institute developed a new, significantly more expensive type of ship on that basis. On 30 August 1980 Research Minister Volker Hauff (*1940) awards the construction contract for the vessel to the consortium “Polar Research Ship “ (Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft – HDW – in Kiel and Werft Nobiskrug in Rendsburg).

On 9 December 1982 RV Polarstern was taken over by Federal Research Minister Heinz Riesenhuber. On 27 December 1982 RV Polarstern undertook its first voyage in the Antarctic. Among other things, the ship transported material there for construction of Georg von Neumayer Station, an air chemistry laboratory and several snow vehicles.

November 2000 – The vessel takes part in the EisenEx experiment. The mission is to examine the extent to which algal growth in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current can be influenced by fertilisation with iron sulphate and what impact this growth has on the biosphere. On 23 August 2001 RV Polarstern met the US research vessel Healy and the icebreaker Oden in the middle of the Arctic Ocean at 85° 30 N and 015°00‘ E over the Gakkel Ridge.

During 2004-2005, in the framework of the ice station Polarstern experiment the ship is moored to an ice floe and drifts across the Weddell Sea for two months. Polar researchers are able to utilise the ice floe as a gigantic outdoor laboratory and study the local influences of the sea, the ice and the atmosphere on the Weddell Sea and global processes. August - October 2008 – RV Polarstern is the first research vessel in the world to circumnavigate the North Pole. At the same time scientists study the bottom of the Arctic Sea.

In 2012, the research vessel Polarstern was 30 years old - but thanks to good care is still fit for the trip to the ice. Birthday spends the research icebreaker in the vastness of Antarctica. The public can visit the ship in June, before it traveled the southern hemisphere for a year and half.

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and middle 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 Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the seventeen research centers of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Polarstern is also the name of the first track of Eisbrecher's (German for Icebreaker) first album, Eisbrecher. Throughout the track in Russian, French and only then in German, narrations are given specifying the dimensions and specifications of an enormous ship, blowing the measurements of the real icebreaker out of proportion (e.g.: length of 236 metres). The ship plays a central role in German musician Schiller's 2010 album Atemlos. A track is titled after the ship. It is also featured in the DVD of the same title, showing the musician's expedition on the vessel.

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Page last modified: 10-05-2019 11:49:01 ZULU