"Polarstern" expedition flies with Lufthansa to the Falkland Islands

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"Polarstern" on a journey through Antarctic sea ice, Weddell Sea. Photos: AWI, Hoppmann; DLH

The Alfred Wegener Institute accepts the challenge of carrying out a research expedition in the Antarctic Weddell Sea under pandemic conditions. In this way, the participants of the “Polarstern” expedition can continue the long-term data measurements in the Southern Ocean, which form the basis for our understanding of the polar processes and the urgently needed climate predictions. On February 1, 2021, Deutsche Lufthansa will transport the scientists to the place of embarkation in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands with its longest scheduled flight ever.

On January 31, an Airbus A 350-900 will take off under the flight number LH 2574 for the longest non-stop flight in the history of Lufthansa: 13.700 kilometers from Hamburg to the Mount Pleasant military base on the Falkland Islands. At 21.30:16 p.m. it is “Ready for take-off” for 92 crew members and 15 passengers. On board the special flight are scientists and ship crews who, on behalf of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven, are going on the 350-hour flight for the upcoming expedition with the research ship “Polarstern” . The A900-16 will be transferred from Frankfurt to Hamburg on Sunday afternoon. The landing at Hamburg Airport is planned for 30:9924 p.m. under flight number LH XNUMX.

Airbus A 350 “Braunschweig” flies scientists and “Polarstern” crew to the Falkland Islands. Photo: DLH

High hygiene requirements

Since the hygiene requirements around this flight are extremely high, the Lufthansa crew went into quarantine at the same time as the passengers in a Bremerhaven hotel before mid-January. During this time they were accompanied by a virtual information and sports program. So they completed a 10.000-step competition, an idea of ​​the Lufthansa crew, to keep fit in the first week of the room quarantine. In addition, there were internal lectures by the accompanying scientists, which were soon followed virtually by several hundred Lufthansa employees.

Crew and tour participants will take a bus from Bremerhaven to Hamburg on Sunday. With a closely coordinated hygiene concept, Hamburg Airport ensures contactless boarding for crew and expedition participants. Some of the terminal areas that have been closed are used so that there is no contact with other travelers. The LH2574 is also a record flight for Hamburg Airport: It is the longest non-stop flight that has ever started on the Hamburg apron.

To make the flight comfortable, passengers travel in Business Class and Sleeper's Row. For this purpose, a row of seats in Economy Class is equipped with a mattress, blanket and pillow. The A350-900 also has lighting technology that supports the sleep / night rhythm. The cabin lighting was adjusted again especially for this flight so that the time difference of four hours results in only minimal jet lag.

Planned flight route

After landing on the Falkland Islands, scientific staff and crew members will continue their journey to Antarctica with the research vessel “Polarstern”. Due to the legal requirements on the Falkland Islands, the Lufthansa crew will go into quarantine again after landing. The return flight will start on February 3rd under flight number LH 2575 with destination Munich. The landing is expected on Thursday, February 4th at 14:00 p.m. Some of the crews on board are the “Polarstern” that left Bremerhaven on December 20.

Meticulous preparation

She meticulously prepared the team for the expedition. Even under pandemic conditions, an international scientific team can set off for Antarctica after a two-week quarantine and several negative corona tests. On January 31, they will fly - strictly isolated - from Hamburg Airport with a Lufthansa charter plane to Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands. There they start the two-month expedition to the Antarctic Weddell Sea two days later with the research icebreaker “Polarstern” of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). The target region is the area in front of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf far to the south of the Atlantic sector of the South Ocean. A good 50 researchers want to decipher the interactions and changes in the ocean-ice-biology system in climate change and better predict their consequences. "These processes influence both sea level rise and the global carbon cycle and thus the ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in the long term," explains Dr. Hartmut Hellmer, physical oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute and leader of the expedition.

On the continental slope north of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, the water depth rises rapidly from a few hundred meters to over 3.000 meters. Large amounts of cold ice shelf water and salty shelf water meet relatively warm deep water from the north and mix. This deep water formation is an essential part of the global ocean circulation, over which acidic and nutrient-rich water flows from the high latitudes towards the equator and in return heat reaches the polar regions. As a result of the mixing of the water masses, modified warm deep water flows in the direction of the ice shelf, where the ice shelf - i.e. the foothills of the glaciers floating on the sea - can melt from below.

The German research vessel “Polarstern” during an ice station in the Weddell Sea. Photo: AWI, Mario Hoppmann

Since the last Polarstern expedition to this area in 2018, measuring devices anchored on the sea floor have recorded the temperature, salinity, flow direction and strength of the ocean water at various depths. In order to access the data for these anchorages, the devices must now be recorded. Equipped with new batteries and storage media, they are then deployed again and continue the long-term measurements of the oceanographic parameters.

Seals in action

Seals will also be helping out in research in the near future: up to twelve Weddell seals will be fitted with sensors that measure salinity, temperature and depth. Biologists stick them on the animals' heads; at the next annual coat change, the seals will also take off the transmitter. The transmitters transmit the data collected underwater to the home institutes via satellite whenever the animals appear. The diving patterns of the seals under the ice also show where larger amounts of food organisms are likely to be found, because only there will the seals stay longer to hunt.

Back at the end of April

How long the “Polarstern” can stay in the southern Weddell Sea depends on the sea ice conditions on site: when the days get shorter and temperatures drop at the end of southern summer in March, the course heads north. “The sea ice conditions look promising on the satellite maps at the moment. We are in good spirits that we can work through all the projects in the southern Weddell Sea. But of course we also have an alternative plan for a region further north should the ice conditions end the work in the Filchner trough ”, says Polarstern captain Stefan Schwarze. The research icebreaker will call at Atka Bay no later than the second half of March. The replaced wintering team from Neumayer Station III will be picked up there, as will the technical team and the scientists who worked at the station during the summer season. After a short transit back to Port Stanley, most of them return to their homeland by plane, while the “Polarstern” starts its return journey with a small group of researchers to Bremerhaven, where the ship is expected to return at the end of April.

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