The region covered by Polarstern during this mission extends from 40 to 70 degrees southern latitude, i.e. from the so-called subtropical convergence, a hydrological boundary separating the Antarctic from the Atlantic Ocean, and the Antarctic continent. The scientific studies aboard Polarstern, aside from being highly relevant for climate research, are part of three large international programmes within the International Polar Year framework.
The research programme SCACE (Synoptic Circum-Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Study) explores physical and biological interrelations in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, comparing recently recorded parameters with historical data. "The Antarctic Circumpolar Current measures several hundred kilometres across, surrounding the Antarctic continent and connecting all large oceans", explains Ulrich Bathmann. "This large ocean current transports both heat energy and fresh water, plays a central role in the ocean-wide cycles of dissolved material, and contains a series of distinct ecosystems that may displace each other with changing climate regimes. Plankton algae involved have a high potential for absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide", the marine biologist adds about the significance of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current for the functioning of the system Earth. At the same time, Southern Ocean natural systems themselves are extremely sensitive to global changes. Hence, one of the central tasks of the SCACE programme will consist in collecting a unique data set that can serve as a benchmark for comparison with existing data to identify and quantify polar changes.
A special role for food webs in the Southern Ocean is played by krill. This group of crustaceans, which may also become interesting for economic purposes, has been relatively well studied in some few regions of the Antarctic, for instance surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula. However,
|Contact: Ralf Roechert|
Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research