Marine and Polar Research

Oceans are the largest habitat on Earth: they cover more than two thirds of the Earth's surface. This makes their protection especially important. The German Federal Research Ministry funds research to protect oceans, coastlines and polar regions.

Forschungsschiff Polarstern
With a length of 118 metres, a cruising speed of 10.5 knots, and a maximum endurance of 75 days, the POLARSTERN is one of the most powerful research vessels in operation today. © Stefanie Arndt

What role do the oceans play in the storage of heat and CO2 and what effect will rising sea levels and climate change have on our coastlines? What effect will ocean pollution and acidification have on biodiversity and human' ability to provide for themselves? These and other questions are the focal point of marine research. The challenge is in maintaining the ecological balance in marine and polar regions, and ensuring natural resources and ecosystem services for ourselves and for future generations.

Coastal, marine and polar research aims to address these challenges in the coming decades and to find preventive solutions. To this end “preventive research” is being conducted, with a future oriented and innovative approach. Interdisciplinary research approaches will be a key factor. It delivers insights that enable us to analyse change and formulate prognoses for the future of our planet.

Understanding Climate Change

About 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, but we still know relatively little about the largest habitat on the planet, even though the oceans – following the atmosphere – play the driving role in climate events and the Earth's mass balance. Effective climate research would be unimaginable, without the contributions from marine and polar researchers. Polar researchers can reconstruct climate history using ice cores taken from our planet's large ice sheets.

To be able to protect our coastline from storm surges and the danger presented by rising sea levels, we must understand the physics, chemistry, and biology of the oceans. The impacts of climate change are becoming ever more relevant for our societal well-being. We must close our knowledge gaps of the climate system to support innovative climate policies and take targeted action to combat the impacts of climate change.

Innovative marine and polar research requires a modern high-tech research infrastructure. Germany commands one of the most advanced research fleets in the world as part of its dedication to safeguarding the future. The German research ships are operating in the oceans and in polar regions, making a significant contribution to cooperative international scientific missions. They play a significant role in the expansion of our international relationships.

Protecting Vulnerable Regions

Coastal regions are important habitats, natural, and economic areas. They act as an interface between land, sea, and society. 70 percent of the Earth's population live in coastal regions. Climate change is increasing the frequency with which extreme climate events, such as storm surges, threaten the delicate coastline. This threat is accompanied by a rise in sea levels, a result of warming seas and melting ice. The development and improvement of early warning systems are essential part of our adaptation to the consequences of climate change.

Populations in coastal regions are growing worldwide: these areas are characterised by the construction of regenerative power plants and transport routes, naval traffic, and tourism. At the same time, they provide a unique habitat for flora and fauna and are an important part of humankind's cultural and natural heritage. Sustainable development in coastal regions presents society with the challenge of using natural resources while preserving them for future generations. Researchers are identifying data and possible solutions that can be used as a basis for shaping successful environmental and economic policies.