Glaciology at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research

The ice masses of Greenland and the Antarctic do not only change on geological time scales, but also on years to decades. They are in permanent exchange with their environment – the ocean, the atmosphere, and the surface of the solid Earth – and react to changes much faster than was anticipated only 25 years ago. Today, improved research methods and modern satellite-based observational systems bring us into the position to investigate the ice masses on site but also keep an eye on them from the distance. In this way, we developed a basic understanding of the physics of ice masses and their interactions within the Earth system. Nevertheless, many important processes and mechanisms are still badly understood, especially those of high relevance and required for prognoses of the future sea level rise. This is the access point of our research questions:

Research questions

  • How will ice sheets react to warmer oceans and atmosphere?
  • Which effect will surface melting have on glaciers and ice sheets – can ice sheets store water?
  • Which role do conditions at the ice base and within the ice play for the dynamics of the partly rapidly flowing ice streams and how did they change in the past?
  • Where can we find the oldest ice and which conclusions can be made on the past climate, more than one million years ago?
  • How did the polar climate change over the last years to millennia?


  • Field-observational methods, e.g. snow pits & geophysics
  • Satellite-based methods like altimetry, gravimetry, interferometry and image analysis
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Laboratory analysis of ice cores, e.g. isotopes and impurities
  • Micro-structure analysis via computer tomography, Raman spectroscopy, and image analysis

Responsible persons

Prof. Dr. Ilka Weikusat, (AWI, Uni Tübingen)

Prof. Dr. Olaf Eisen (AWI, Uni Bremen)

Prof. Dr. Angelika Humbert (AWI, Uni Bremen)

Prof. Dr. Frank Wilhelms (AWI, Uni Göttingen) 

Larger Projects we participate in

Beyond EPICA – Oldest Ice


GHOST – International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration

SCAR Action Group AntArchitecture

SCAR Action Group RINGS



HGF Alliance Fernerkundung und Erdsystemdynamik