Le Commandant Charcot as a platform for research for the Alfred Wegener Institute: a success story

Last summer, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) travelled onboard PONANT’s Le Commandant Charcot to the geographic North Pole. The main objective was to obtain scientific data about the ice thickness. Also, throughout the Arctic season, PONANT supports AWI with a continuous stream of ice thickness data.

The Alfred Wegener Institute: a world leader in Arctic research

Bremerhaven-based Alfred Wegener Institute is a research center, that focusses among other things on observing and better understanding the changes of sea ice in the Arctic, and the consequences on climate, ecosystems, and humans. AWI is a world leader in interdisciplinary Arctic system studies. Their own research icebreaker Polarstern has visited the Arctic nearly every summer since more than 40 years.

For us the value is in the repeat cruises of Le Commandant Charcot to the Pole along very similar cruise tracks. Besides our own research vessel Polarstern, Le Commandant Charcot is an alternative vessel in the Arctic.

Christian Haas, Professor of Sea Ice Geophysics and Remote Sensing at the University of Bremen and Director of the Sea Ice Research Group at AWI.

A successful collaboration

With its well-equipped vessel, PONANT offers a platform that allows AWI to improve its data collection.
The lectures given on board by the scientific team are opportunities to raise awareness of the challenges of protecting polar ecosystems. PONANT supports AWI in two ways:

When AWI Scientists are not onboard: when going through the ice, the bow of Le Commandant Charcot is equipped with a Sea Ice Measurement System or SIMS, continuously collects data on navigation through the ice and transfers it to the AWI teams in Bremerhaven. The PONANT onboard science officer and the naturalists help to obtain other data, and eventually to deploy buoys.

When AWI Scientists are onboard: their role is to measure sea ice thickness (with the SIMS) and melt pond coverage (with drones), and to deploy drifting buoys on the sea ice at the North Pole. The drifting buoys obtain sea ice and weather measurements continuously in the months after the visit by the vessel.

There is also a cooperation with the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, to study the icebreaking performance of Le Commandant Charcot.

By measuring ice thickness changes over summer cruises, we can track the monthly ice melt, aiding our understanding of minimum thickness by the end of the melting season in September. This data is essential for improving Arctic Sea ice modelling, prediction, and satellite data validation.

Christian Haas, Professor of Sea Ice Geophysics and Remote Sensing at the University of Bremen and Director of the Sea Ice Research Group at AWI.

PONANT Science

Le Commandant Charcot has been designed not only for polar exploration cruises but also for scientific research. It has two dedicated scientific laboratories (wet and dry) and equipment to facilitate various research activities during voyages to the polar regions. The ship's scientific facilities are used for a range of research projects, including studies related to oceanography, glaciology, marine biology, and environmental monitoring.
Since 2021, over 150 scientists and 60 international projects have been hosted on board Le Commandant Charcot, half of them over multiple years.

PONANT contributes to the POLARIN network for polar research

From 2024 to 2029, PONANT will contribute to the European Union-funded POLARIN (Polar Research Infrastructure Network) project through the provision of its vessel Le Commandant Charcot.
Building on the success of the EU-funded ARICE (Arctic Research Icebreaker Consortium) project, POLARIN has been set up as an extended initiative. The aim of the project is to create a global network of infrastructures dedicated to polar research and services, capable of meeting the scientific challenges of these regions. POLARIN will provide integrated and combined access to these infrastructures to facilitate interdisciplinary research on complex processes.
In all, the project involves 50 organizations and 79 infrastructures in the polar regions. The network draws on a wide range of resources, including 38 research stations, 12 ships, 18 observatories, 4 information storage centers and 7 databases.

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