Where and what is AWIPEV ?
The Arctic is impacted by climate change more than other parts of the globe. A particular hot spot of climate warming is the Svalbard region along oceanic and atmospheric heat transport routes to the Arctic. At the west coast of Svalbard, the former mining settlement of Ny-Ålesund has developed into a forefront of international research. Here, the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and the French Polar Institute Paul Emile Victor (IPEV) merged their stations to jointly operate the Arctic research base AWIPEV since 2003. Occupied all year round, AWIPEV serves German and French research projects as a platform for investigations in the fields of biology, glaciology, geophysics and atmospheric research, with accommodation capacity for up to 24 researchers. The AWIPEV staff supports scientific activities in the field and takes care of the technical operation of the station as well as continuous long-term measurements.
Svalbard, meaning “cool coast”, is located between 74 and 81° north latitude and 10 and 35° east longitude. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 regulates the Norwegian sovereignty and the protection and use rights over the archipelago. The major part of Svalbard is declared as national parks or national reserves, while the Kongsfjord area has been designated a research area. Ny-Ålesund, at the Kongsfjord coast, is a small settlement that has grown into an international center for modern polar research with facilities from ten different countries (Norway, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, China, India, Korea, The Netherlands, France and Germany). Norwegian authorities and institutions, by virtue of their sovereignty, regulate international research activities. The Norwegian Research Council has published a research strategy for Ny-Ålesund in 2019, giving the host role in Ny-Ålesund to the Norwegian Polar Institute. The Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the French Polar Institute Paul Emile Victor (IPEV) with their joint AWIPEV research base are an integral part of this international research landscape.
In addition to long-term monitoring activities, shorter term projects target a broad variety of processes in the context of climate change and its impact.
- In the Air
Clouds and humidity are among the atmospheric key factors for the Arctic Amplification of climate warming. Together with related variables as aerosol particles and radiation, they are the subject of investigations using mobile platforms such as balloons and drones, in addition to the long-term operation of remote sensing instruments like radar or lidar. Further research is about trace gases and their various effects from the upper atmosphere to the ground, e.g. from stratospheric ozone depletion to effects on snow chemistry. In a regular snow sampling program, AWIPEV staff takes snow probes for physical, chemical and biological analysis.
- On the glacier
Biodiversity of the microbial communities inhabiting the snowpack are studied on the glaciers surrounding the Kongsfjord. The glaciers themselves are shrinking due to the warming climate, as the glacier mass balance is controlled by accumulation of snow during winter and ablation due to melting in summer. Researchers at AWIPEV study the processes in the fast deglaciating basin regarding snow and water budgets, geomorphological evolutions, plant colonization and sediment transfer.
- In the water
As the glaciers melt, sediments and nutrients are washed into the fjord, where they affect water turbidity and thus light availability needed for photosynthesis. At the same time, the higher nutrient richness can increase biological growth. Phytoplankton is the basis of the marine ecosystem and plays an important role in the carbon dioxide absorption capacity of the ocean. Researchers at AWIPEV have been investigating the so-called spring bloom, i.e. the mass reproduction phytoplankton, almost every year. Studies in winter conditions and the characteristics of the spring bloom help to better predict future changes in the marine ecosystem.
- On the Ground
The terrestrial ecosystem is affected by changes in permafrost conditions. While permafrost is the ground that remains frozen over several years, the soil layer that is subject to seasonal freezing and thawing is called ‘active layer’. At the AWIPEV Permafrost Observatory, the thickness of this thaw layer has approximately doubled over the last two decades. AWIPEV projects are studying the related release of greenhouse gases from the active layer, the microbial activity and erosion processes.