25 years of German research in the Arctic
In 1991, Germany set up a research base on Spitsbergen - it's one of the northernmost settlements in the world. With climate change affecting the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the planet, interest has boomed.
Living science lab in the Arctic north
In the tiny settlement of Ny Alesund, in the Svalbard archipelago, 11 countries run research stations, which are housed in brightly colored buildings. The "blue house" became the base for German Arctic research 25 years ago. This local resident, a Svalbard reindeer, has gotten used to the scientists and their comings and goings.
Germany and Arctic research
The "blue house" became Koldewey Station - named after Carl Koldewey, the pioneer of German Arctic Research. In 2003, the German research agency Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) joined forces with the French Paul Emile Victor (PEV) polar institute to run a joint research base, AWIPEV. Young scientists supported by French or German organizations live and work here in the summer season.
A colorful base
In the early 20th century, the small settlement of Ny Alesund sprung up around coal mining. Later, this served as a base for fishermen, and a hotel was built to attract tourists. Although these ventures failed, the settlement eventually found its true destiny as an international Arctic research village. In the completely dark winter months, only a skeleton staff stays on the base.
There are traces of history all around Ny Alesund. This old train track, on the banks of the Kongsfjord, makes for a beautiful visual motif. The colorful old café still comes to life when scientists have some time off on the weekend.
Above the village is Mount Zeppelin, which houses an observatory that monitors global atmospheric change and transport of long-range pollution. Located so far from pollution sources, it is one of a network of measuring stations around the globe. This spectacular view is seen only by very few people, as access is limited to avoid affecting the measurements. Mobile phones are banned in the village.
Who measures that CO2?
One key measurement carried out inside the observatory consists of how much CO2 is in the atmosphere. Mauna Loa in Hawaii is probably the best known of the world's measuring stations - but this Arctic location also plays a key role. Monitoring greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is key to understanding global climate change.
The trials of technology in Arctic conditions
Scientists have the opportunity to carry out research and experiment with new technologies during the summer season up in Svalbard. Unsurprisingly, measuring ice and snow processes is one of the main subjects of research here. Melting snow turns into lots of water. Unfortunately for these two researchers, their airborne camera chose to land right … there.
Amongst the local residents dropping in for a snack is this Arctic fox. It is early summer and he is starting to lose his winter coat. Biologists also come to the research base to investigate Arctic wildlife. Sometimes, the question is: Who is watching whom?
The world's northernmost marine lab
In 2005, the Kings Bay Marine Laboratory was officially opened. It is the northernmost experimental laboratory for research in marine ecology, as well for physical sciences like oceanography. Scientists from all over the world make use of the lab facilities to store and work on their samples and prepare them for transport home.
Changing climate, acid ocean
Climate change is making our seas increasingly acid. The Kongsfjord is one location where scientists investigate how this affects creatures that live in the ocean. Here, scientists from some of Germany's leading marine research bodies are lowering "mesocosms" into the fjord. These function like closed observation labs in the icy water. In the background, a Greenpeace ship provides logistical aid.
A barrow-load of science
Visiting scientists regularly collect samples in the fjord. Sometimes the high-tech equipment is transported to the research boat via old-fashioned means. Researchers from different countries and organizations help each other out in collecting samples. One is looking into viruses, the other into how sediment from melting glaciers affects life in the fjord.
Suited for survival
Even in summer, the water of this Arctic fjord is ice-cold. Any researcher who falls into the water would die very quickly without proper protection. The orange survival suits are therefore a must for any boat expedition, like this one to the glacier in the distance. The expedition leader must also carry a rifle, in case of unexpected encounters with polar bears.
Eiders on ice
Waiting for the next set of curious scientists? Birds along the fjords are not always keen to be captured, weighed, have blood samples taken or be ringed. But in the interest of understanding the Arctic and the world we live in, sometimes you have to put up with a little discomfort.