RV Polarstern

RV Polarstern (meaning pole star) is a German research icebreaker of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven. Polarstern was commissioned in 1982 and is mainly used for research in the Arctic and Antarctica. It is planned that she will be replaced by Polarstern II around the year 2020,[2] after it was decided that the European Research Icebreaker Aurora Borealis will not be built in her original form.

Name: Polarstern
Namesake: Pole star
Owner: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung[1]
Operator: Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI)
Port of registry: Bremerhaven,  Germany
Route: Arctic and Antarctica
Ordered: 28 August 1980[1]
Builder: Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft at Kiel and the Nobiskrug at Rendsburg
Yard number: 707[1]
Laid down: 22 September 1981[1]
Launched: 6 January 1982[1]
Completed: 8 December 1982[1]
Status: In service
General characteristics
Type: Icebreaker, Research vessel
Tonnage: 12,614 GT[1]
Displacement: 17,300 tonnes
Length: 117.91 m (386 ft 10 in)
Beam: 25.07 m (82 ft 3 in)
Draught: 11.21 m (36 ft 9 in)
Installed power: Four diesel engines, 14,000 kW (19,000 hp)
Speed: 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph)
Capacity: 124 persons
Crew: 44

Polarstern was built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in Kiel and Nobiskrug in Rendsburg. The ship has a length of 118 metres (387 feet) and is a double-hulled icebreaker. She is operational at temperatures as low as -50°C. (-58°F) Polarstern can break through ice 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) thick at a speed of 5 knots. Thicker ice up to 3 m (9.8 ft) thick can be broken by ramming.


On 7 September 1991, Polarstern, assisted by the Swedish arctic icebreaker Oden reached the North Pole as the first conventional powered vessels.[3] Both scientific parties and crew took oceanographic and geological samples and had a common tug of war and a football game on an ice floe. In 2001, Polarstern together with the USCGC Healy reached the pole again.[4] She returned for a third time on 22 August 2011. This time she reported the most frequently recurring ice thickness at 0.9 m compared with 2 m in 2001.[5]

On March 2, 2008, one of the vessel's helicopters crashed on a routine flight to the Antarctic Neumayer II base. The German pilot and a Dutch researcher were killed, three other passengers were injured.[6][7]

On October 17, 2008, Polarstern was the first research ship to ever travel through both the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage in one cruise, thus circumnavigating the North Pole.[8]

On September 20, 2019, she sailed from Tromsø, Norway, for a 12 to 14 month-long Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition across the Arctic.[9][10] She settled in an ice floe on October 4, 2019 and will drift in it past the North pole eventually reaching open water in the Fram Strait.[11]

Expeditions updates

Current listings of all cruises on board Polarstern as well as associated content (e.g., tracklines, weekly reports, cruise reports, publications and data) are presented in AWI's research platform portal.

Polarstern is also the name of the first track of Eisbrecher's (German for Icebreaker) first album, Eisbrecher. Throughout the track in Russian, French and only then in German, narrations are given specifying the dimensions and specifications of an enormous ship, blowing the measurements of the real icebreaker out of proportion (e.g.: length of 236 metres). This way the artist may probably want to reference the international matter of Arctic, the untouchable dominance of Soviet technology pioneers in nuclear-powered icebreakers, and to give tribute to Baltic German and Russian Arctic researchers: Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen, Ferdinand Friedrich Georg Ludwig von Wrangel, Georgy Alexeyevich Ushakov, Otto Yulyevich Schmidt, and Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin.

The ship plays a central role in German musician Schiller's 2010 album Atemlos (German for breathless). A track is titled after the ship. It is also featured in the DVD of the same title, showing the musician's expedition on the vessel.


  1. "Polarstern (G16829)". DNV GL Vessel Register. Germanischer Lloyd. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  2. "Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung". Retrieved 2017-07-18.
  3. Fütterer, D. et al. (1992) The Expedition ARK-VIII/3 of RV Polarstern in 1991, Reports on Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, 107, 267 pp, hdl:10013/epic.10107.d001 (pdf 6.4 MB)
  4. Thiede, J. et al. (2002) POLARSTERN ARKTIS XVII/2 Cruise Report: AMORE 2001 (Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge Expedition), Reports on Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, 421, 390 pp, hdl:10013/epic.10426.d001 (pdf 8 MB)
  5. "Research Vessel Polarstern at North Pole". August 24, 2011. Archived from the original on February 12, 2013. Retrieved September 12, 2011.
  6. "awi.de - sad times (ANT-XXIV/3 Weekly report No. 3)". Archived from the original on 2009-11-17. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  7. "Pooljaar.nl - The crash in retrospect (article in Dutch)". Archived from the original on 2011-07-24. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
  8. "idw-online.de - Research around the North Pole". Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  9. Fountain, Henry (19 September 2019). "Scientists to Drift With Arctic Ice to Study Climate Change". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  10. "An entire year trapped in the ice". MOSAiC. Alfred Wegener Institute. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  11. Fountain, Henry (4 October 2019). "Scientists on Arctic Expedition Choose Ice Floe That'll Be Home for a Year". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2019.

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