Polar research of the Geophysics Section

Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz-Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)

An important means to understand climate change today and to better estimate the future consequences for humanity is to look back into Earth’s history. The Geophysics Section at AWI focuses on projects concerning questions about paleoclimate and tectonic-geodynamic processes in both polar and subpolar regions. We survey and investigate the structure and development of the Earth from its uppermost sediments to the crust and mantle. Our key research activities are assessing present-day magmatic processes of ultra-slow spreading mid-ocean ridges, reconstructing the past dynamics of ice sheet dynamics and ocean circulation, surveying the geology under the ice and glacial-morphological structures as well as analyzing tectonic processes in the Arctic and Antarctic. We use a broad spectrum of methods including hydroacoustics such as multibeam echosounding, sediment echosounding, reflection seismics and refraction seismics as well as passive-source seismology and potential field methods such as ship-based and airborne gravimetrics and magnetics. The AWI also operates the marine component of the “German Instrument Pool for Amphibian Seismology” (DEPAS) which makes broad-band ocean-bottom seismometers available to researchers from German universities and research institutions for their experiments.

Research objectives

  • Reconstruction of ice sheets during Earth’s history
  • Reconstruction of past ocean currents for paleoclimate research
  • Understanding of geodynamic and hydrothermal processes in polar oceans
  • Reconstruction of tectonic development of polar regions


  • Seismic surveying of Earth’s crust and marine sediments
  • Surveying of sea floor morphologies
  • Seismological recordings of earthquakes and icequakes
  • Measurements of the Earth’s gravity and magnetic fields
  • Physical properties of sediment cores

Responsible persons

Section Leader: Prof. Vera Schlindwein, Alfred Wegener Institute

Deputy Section Leader: Prof. Karsten Gohl, Alfred Wegener Institute

Projects we participate in

Section of Geophysics website