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Large Scale User Facilities

Within the Research Field “Earth and Environment” AWI, GEOMAR and GFZ are responsible for the operation of seven large LKII user facilities (performance category II, i.e., >5 Mio. € operational costs per year and >50% external users): research stations, aircraft, research vessels, and a Modular Earth Science Infrastructure (MESI). They are supporting the Program “Changing Earth – Sustaining our Future” and are especially relevant for cooperations on national, European and international level. More then 50% of the operation time is free-of-charge available for external users.

Neumayer Station III

Neumayer Station III is the permanent German station for scientific research and logistics in Antarctica since 2009. The station continues long-term scientific observations started in 1981 with the inauguration of Georg-von-Neumayer Station, which was replaced by Neumayer Station II in 1992. Since then, these stations served to fulfill the political, scientific and logistic obligations of Germany within the Antarctic Treaty System.

Neumayer Station III is the logistic backbone for AWI, national and international research in Western Dronning Maud Land Antarctica. While the winter crew consists of nine persons, up to 60 persons can be accommodated during austral summer, 20 of whom service technical and scientific quipment. Scientific access is granted through a peer-review process. Local service includes access to vehicles and technical support to move around in the vicinity or for deep field campaigns.

The station contributes to large-scale international projects and is part of dedicated scientific and operational networks. As a Helmholtz large scale infrastructure as well as under the umbrella of the Antarctic Treaty, the station is open for guest scientists from universities and other research institutions to perform scientific projects.

Polar Aircraft

The AWI facilitates research in remote, ice-covered regions in the Arctic and Antarctica. The deployment of survey aircraft is indispensable for detailed investigations as well as for mapping larger areas of several thousand km2. Logistical support for ground-based studies is also provided by the aircraft. Currently, AWI operates the Polar Aircraft for in-house, national, and international projects, and partner institutions.

Both aircraft are Basler BT-67 make, based on DC-3T airframes, and equipped with wheelski gear as well as modern cockpit instruments and modern turboprop engines. The aircraft are fitted with de-icing equipment as well as auxiliary heating systems and are prepared for hosting various scientific instruments. Thus they are well suited for surveys under difficult weather conditions in temperatures down to -54°C. The ability to easily change the installed suite of instruments allows AWI to meet the requirements of the scientific community in polar research. Depending on the background of the various principal investigators, the aircraft are deployed for studies of diverse processes in the atmosphere in polar regions, interactions between the Earth’s crust and ice and snow-covered regions, as well as oceans. The available scientific instrumentation of the aircraft is continuously growing, driven by the demand of the scientific user community. It comprises commercial devices as well as custom-made instruments, specially developed for use on board of the Polar Aircraft.

Marine Station on Helgoland

Marine Station on Sylt

The Marine Stations on Helgoland and Sylt

The Marine Stations on Helgoland and Sylt are permanent coastal stations in the German Bight, formerly of the Biologische Anstalt Helgoland, BAH. With both stations, the southwesterly region of  the North Sea and its eco-systematic features can be observed with a focus on long-term ecological time series, which are made available to government offices, professional associations, and research institutes, worldwide. The stations are a hub for national and transnational access for guest researchers and visiting scientists in the German Bight. For over fifty years the stations have served as centers of student education by providing facilities for university courses.

The stations run coastal research vessels (Mya II, Uthörn and Aade). The stations are home to the Scientific Diving Centre of the AWI, which conducts, promotes, and supports diver-related underwater science within the framework of all AWI research themes.

RV Polarstern

RV Polarstern, operated by AWI, is an ice-going research and supply vessel. The main operation areas are the ice-covered seas of the northern and southern polar regions, but it is also the only ship for operations in stormy seas (‘furious 50s’ and ‘screaming60s’ of the Southern Ocean). The ship provides ideal working conditions for almost all disciplines of marine sciences, atmospheric and glaciological research. It can continuously break ice up to 2 m thick and operate for up to 90 days at sea, hosting 52 scientists. RV Polarstern is therefore ideally suited for long expeditions to remote polar regions. In the last 35 years, RV Polarstern was, on average, at sea for 310 days per year.

RV Polarstern has variable laboratory space with wet labs, dry labs, chemical and computer labs. State-of-the-art integrated measurement and data systems enable comprehensive interdisciplinary research. A hangar accommodates two twin-engine helicopters (BK 117-C1) with a carrying capacity of up to seven passengers, cargo and scientific equipment. The excellent ice-breaking capacities allow for scientific work in high Antarctic and Arctic regions, also during winter time (<-50°C). All expeditions to polar regions are carried out with national and international participation. RV Polarstern regularly supplies Neumayer Station III, and it is part of an international supply network for Antarctic research stations.

RV Heincke

RV Heincke, operated by the AWI, is a medium-sized multipurpose research vessel, designed for operation in the North Atlantic and its shelf seas such as the North and Baltic Seas. The ice trengthened ship can operate as far as the coastal waters off Svalbard. It offers workspace and accommodation for twelve scientists and twelve crew members. The operating range of the ship is about 7,500 nautical miles (= 30 passage days).

RV Heincke It is equipped for multidisciplinary use and meets the demands of research in biology, geology, geophysics, chemistry, and oceanography. It has four laboratories, including a temperature-controlled laboratory. Additional container-laboratories and other special containers can be stowed separately on deck and in a special container room. A cold storeroom and seawater tank capacities for the transport of seawater is available. The fully automatic weather station is maintained by the DWD out of the port in Bremerhaven. RV Heincke is, on average, at sea 290 days per year.

RV Alkor

RV Alkor, operated by GEOMAR, is a medium-sized multipurpose research vessel, designed for operation in the Northeast Atlantic and its shelf seas, such as the North and Baltic Sea. It offers workspaces and accommodation for twelve scientists and twelve crew members. The operating range of the ship is about 7,500 nautical miles and a maximum 21 working days between port calls. The amount of ship-based (single instrument deployment) science can be significantly enhanced by simultaneously operating a diverse set of independent robotic platforms.

RV Alkor is equipped for multidisciplinary use and meets the demands of research in biology, geology, geophysics, chemistry, boundary layer meteorology and physical oceanography and can service a large array of robotic systems including tethered ROVs, AUVs, moored and ocean bottom observation systems, and a manned submersible (JAGO). It has four laboratories, including a temperature-controlled one. Additional laboratories and other specialized containers can be stowed on deck and in a container room. A cold storeroom and capacities to transport seawater tanks are available. Extensive hoisting equipment, such as cranes and winches, is available for the deployment of sampling devices and measurement instruments, and for launching robotic equipment. RV Alkor is equipped with hydroacoustic echo sounders and a suite of underwater measurement systems. The winch capacities and the hydroacoustic systems are designed for a maximum working depth of approximately 2,000 m. RV Alkor operates at sea for 290 days per year, on average.


The Modular Earth Science Infrastructure (MESI) of GFZ comprises operational services and ground segments for satellite missions, globally distributed observational facilities for seismology, gravity and the magnetic field, state-of-the-art instrument pools, specialized analytical laboratories, data centers, and a wide range of service products.

The complexity of the Earth system requires an integrated observation strategy to cover the full range of scales from microscopic structures to the global perspective. To address these needs, our user facilities are organized in a modular structure, such that each module is developed and operated by the sections of GFZ based on their scientific expertise. This integration into the research activities assures the development of the infrastructure and associated services, reflects the requirements of the Program ‘Changing Earth’, and encourages technical advances and scientific innovation. The individual modules are subject to oversight by dedicated external steering committees or by being embedded into the governance of international coordination bodies. External users can directly access the instrument pools and the laboratories free of charge. MESI supports data mining and AI applications by providing most of its data in standardized formats through APIs and web services, and by delivering higher-order data products, in many cases already fulfilling the FAIR principles.