Research vessel Polarstern

The German icebreaker Polarstern trapped in the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

More than 300 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions

The research vessel Polarstern was first commissioned in 1982. Since then, the ship has completed more than 300 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Specially designed for working in polar seas, Polarstern is still one of the most sophisticated polar research and supply vessels in the world. And although it has been in service for 40 years, it can still fully perform its operational duties thanks to the modern technology on board.

In the autumn of 2019, Polarstern embarked on the MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) expedition, the greatest Arctic expedition of all time: for over a year the research icebreaker drifted across the Arctic Ocean, trapped in the sea ice. Almost 450 experts from 20 countries researched the Arctic during the course of the year and investigated the effects of climate change.

The ship is equipped for research in the areas of biology, geology, geophysics, glaciology, chemistry, oceanography and meteorology. It has nine research laboratories and can be equipped with additional laboratory containers.

Organisational details

This research vessel is operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven. It is owned by the Federal Government, represented by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Facts and figures

Max. 44 crew and approx. 50 researchers

Daily cost of operation: 70,000 euros

Approx. 305 days a year at sea

Research activities

Scientists on board Polarstern conduct

  • Polar research
  • Earth research
  • Marine research
  • Climate research
Pie chart that depicts the budget of the Alfred Wegener Institute, which is funded by 90% by the Federal State and by 10 % by the Länder institutions.


The Alfred Wegener Institute, which operates Polarstern, has a budget of 152 million euros (2020). Because the AWI belongs to the Helmholtz Association, 90 per cent of its annual budget comes from federal funds, while the rest is provided by four German states (Länder).

Alfred Wegener Institute

Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research

  • Am Handelshafen 12
  • 27570 Bremerhaven