Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI)

Photo: S Christmann

About Germany’s National Antarctic Program

COMNAP Representative (MNAP): Uwe Nixdorf, Deputy Director
(DMNAP): Christine Wesche, Logistics and Research Platforms

Neumayer III Station, with Polar 5 landing
Neumayer III Station, in winter darkness.

The lead agency for the German national Antarctic Program is the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) which was established as a foundation of public law in 1980 and which conducts research in the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as in temperate latitudes. The AWI coordinates polar research in Germany and provides the necessary equipment and key infrastructure for polar expeditions. AWI scientists study the natural variability of the climate system from short to long time scales. The Arctic and Antarctic are climatologically the most sensitive regions in the Earth System to anthropogenic climate change and in this context they constitute valuable sources of information about possible future global environmental change and its consequences. Key data are obtained on present-day variability of ocean systems and climate, records of their historic variability in the recent geological past, and in the reconstructions of climate history. Methods exploited range from modern satellite-based remote sensing techniques to deep sea and ice core drilling. A priority at AWI is to conduct research on the polar marine regions and their biotas. The institute has an important role in keeping the federal government updated on its research results and providing competent advice for the development of environmental policies.

Germany operates three Antarctic research stations. Neumayer III is the current winter over base on the Ekstrom Ice Shelf, the third station to occupy this space since 1981. Close by, at 757 kilometers away, is Kohnen Station, a summer base which was established in 2001 was used for deep drilling purposes til 2006 and now serves a deep ice lab and as advance base for deep field activities on the polar plateau. The Dallmann Laboratory, founded in 1994, which is a smaller seasonal working space with four laboratories is an annex to the Argentinian base Carlini on King George island and operated jointly with IAA.

The pride of the AWI is the icebreaker R/V Polarstern first commissioned in 1982. The ship is equipped for biological, geological, geophysical, glaciological, chemical, oceanographic and meteorological research, and contains nine research laboratories. The ship has a maximum crew of 44, and offers work facilities for a further 50 scientists and technicians. Plans for a new icebreaker are currently under development.​There are two ski equipped polar aircraft (BASLER BT-67) which can be used both for logistic and science purposes. They can be equipped for aerogeophysical, meteorological, glaciological and atmospheric chemistry studies.

About the organizational structure of Alfred Wegener Institute

At AWI, the Director oversees the scientific work in the three divisions – Climate, biology and geosciences as well as takes final responsibility in all logistic matters. The Director answers to the Board of Governors, which has representatives from the government, the federal states, scientists and members of the public. This Board takes decisions on general and financial matters relating to the Institute. An external science advisory board advises the institute and reviews its scientific success and also reports to the Board of Governors. An internal Scientific Advisory Council comprised of section heads and elected scientists advise the Directorate on matters relating to the research programme.

Currently, the framework for ongoing scientific projects at the Alfred Wegener Institute is provided by the research programme PACES (Polar regions and Coasts in a changing Earth System), following the programme MARCOPOLI (2004-2008).

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) covers 90% of budget, the state of Bremen 8% and the states of Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein provide 1% each. The Foundation employs over 1000 staff and has a total budget of 112 million Euro in 2012.

Our Science Program

The open oceans, coastal areas and polar regions are systems linked by a large number of processes and interdependencies. Each of these systems, however, is characterized by unique environments, processes, and challenges which together significantly influence the entire Earth System. As the complexity of these system components needs to be addressed in a manner which allows to cover the regional aspects as well as their global connectivity and temporal development the science programme is structured into 3 complementary research topics and provides a comprehensive Earth system’s understanding from a polar and coastal perspective with special emphasis on vulnerability and resilience in relation to society’s needs.

  • Changes and regional feedbacks in Arctic and Antarctic
  • Fragile coasts and shelf seas
  • The Earth system from a polar perspective: Data, modelling and synthesis
  • Research in Science-stakeholder interactions

A copy of our current science strategy can be found here:

AWI has close ties to many German Universities, not only the Universities of Bremen, Potsdam, Kiel, Oldenburg, Göttingen and the Jacobs University (Bremen) where joint professorships are established and where formal cooperation agreements are signed, but many others such as Hamburg, Heidelberg, Tübingen where active research groups in our fields exist.

As the national polar research institute AWI is well connected with the international polar research scene and has formed many alliances with leading polar institutions and is partner in or leading internationally coordinated research projects.

Together with the German Research Foundation (DFG) in its priority program on Antarctic Research, the Alfred Wegener Institute also funds talented young scientists. The AWI sends scientists to other institutes throughout the world, to other research ships and stations, and invites scientists from other nations to cruises aboard Polarstern, as well as to Bremerhaven and Potsdam. About a quarter of those participating in Polarstern expeditions are scientists from abroad.

Our Contact Details

Postal Address

Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research
P.O. Box 12 01 61
27515 Bremerhaven

Physical Address
Main building E and buildings ABC
Am Handelshafen 12
27570 Bremerhaven

Phone: +49 (0) 471 4831 0