How is the climate of the Arctic changing, and why is it changing so rapidly? To answer this question, teamwork is essential. The Arctic itself is like a puzzle piece contributing to the complex climate puzzle of the Earth. To assemble and understand it, we must be familiar with the individual pieces. In teams, the researchers aboard the Polarstern search for these components and then piece them together to comprehend the bigger picture.
Team Atmosphere observes everything that occurs above the ice surface up to an altitude of 35 kilometres. They use state-of-the-art research technology such as radar devices and research balloons. These balloons are regularly launched from “Balloon Town” and use small probes to create profiles of the atmospheric layers. The largest and most colourful research balloon is named “Miss Piggy.” It ascends to 1500 meters, chasing aerosols and measuring radiation and turbulence in the atmosphere. To prevent “Miss Piggy” from drifting away, it’s tethered with a long rope. This balloon can’t be deployed in strong winds.
Team Sea Ice investigates how ice floes form, drift, and eventually melt. It explores everything related to sea ice and the snow on top of it, aiming to understand why sea ice is diminishing at an increasing rate. Arctic sea ice is a crucial component of the Earth’s climate puzzle.
What happens beneath the sea ice is the research focus of Team Ocean. There station is called “Ocean City” and consists of a large borehole in the ice surrounded by a blue tent. Here, researchers lower devices with sensors into the water, and Team Ecosystem collects water samples from the depths.
Team Ecosystem examines these water samples for animals, plants, and microorganisms. It investigates how these organisms survive in the icy cold Arctic. Since they also want to understand how Arctic life endures the darkness of the polar night, they also conduct research in the “Dark Sector.” Here, the lights are turned off, as the brightness of the spotlights could distort research results if organisms respond to ship lights in the same way as they do to Arctic sunlight.
Team Biogeochemistry combines biology, chemistry, and geosciences. It deals with gases that influence the climate, especially trace gases like carbon dioxide or methane. These gases occur in small quantities but act as greenhouse gases, contributing to climate warming. Team Biogeochemistry analyses snow, ice, and water samples to understand the gas exchange between the sea, ice, and atmosphere. The Arctic sea ice acts as a lid, determining how much of these gases from the ocean enters the atmosphere and vice versa.