Bremerhaven – Fram Strait – Bremerhaven: since 24 May, the Polarstern has once again been underway. Her goal: to gather samples from the Arctic waters between Greenland and Svalbard. For five weeks, the crew and researchers will live together in cramped quarters on board the icebreaker. People run into each other on the working deck, in the gangways, in the break rooms or on the bridge. Time to ask a few questions.
How many trips on board the Polarstern does this make for you?
Frank: The second.
Patrick: The second for me, too.
Julia: This will be my seventh.
Frank: But the times back when you were a student don’t count!
Julia: No way, even back then I spent plenty of time at the ship’s weather station, even if I didn’t work here yet.
What are your duties on board?
Frank: Gathering meteorological data. Once a day we send up the balloon and take a look at what the local conditions are like.
Julia: We’re like a mobile weather station, and we’ve got plenty of equipment on deck.
Patrick: And of course making the weather forecasts.
Julia: We then use our data to advise the Captain, the researchers and the pilots.
What’s the most challenging part of doing your work on a ship?
Frank: We’re a mobile weather station that cruises all over the world, but in and of itself, it’s the same kind of work you would do at an airport. That’s a welcome challenge.
Patrick: What’s difficult is that we have no Internet, so we don’t receive any updates or new maps. And if the satellite connection breaks down, we’re blind.
Frank: Exactly, we simply have much less basic data to work with.
Julia: We work in extremely remote regions, and there’s simply less data available in the Arctic.
Patrick: But that’s also the reason we’re here. If our work could all be done in Hamburg and the results could be transmitted to the ship, we wouldn’t need to be here.
What’s your favourite part of the ship?
Frank and Patrick: Friction! (NOTE: a ‘nightclub’ on board)
Julia: Oh, I don’t like it there at all! I enjoy it here at the weather station or on the bridge; you’ve got a good view from there.
F: Friction is the place to be after work. It’s a little loud, but that’s to be expected.
What was the biggest surprise when you first came on board?
Julia: That was 10 years ago! But I was surprised that the inside of the ship was so complicated; it took quite a while before I knew my way around it.
Frank: That’s hard to say, because I studied up on the ship well in advance, read a lot about the Polarstern and talked with others who had been on board. But I was still surprised at how good the teamwork is. No matter whether at the weather station or on the bridge, and between researchers and crew alike.
Patrick: For me, too, it was the collaboration here on board.
When you travel, what do you absolutely have to take along?
Frank: My table tennis paddle! We play here every night.
Julia: My camera, that’s an absolute must.
Patrick: An extra pillow. And I have a t-shirt with the Swiss flag on it, but I don’t always take it with me.
What do you think is special about living and working on the Polarstern?
Frank: The teamwork, together with everyone. And the tours of the ship.
Patrick: Everyone on board is an expert in their field; you can see it. Everyone has their own area. And back there, too, in the engine room, they’re experts, too. And that’s why we all work together so smoothly.
Julia: I also find it exciting to be on a research ship and not just any ship; you pick up quite a bit from the research being done, and can learn a thing or two.
What do you do after hours?
Frank: Friction and table tennis.
Patrick: An after-work beer and table tennis! Just spending a bit of time together after work.
Julia: Table tennis yes, but Friction no. Or I like to sit at my computer and put together photo albums; here you have the time to do it.
Sauna, or watching for whales on deck?
Everyone: On deck!
Julia: You can watch for birds and polar bears, too, not just whales.
The Arctic or Antarctic?
Frank: Look at that thick fog outside! You can see a lot more in the Antarctic.
Julia: But there aren’t any polar bears down there, just a bunch of penguins.
Patrick: But you never get to see the polar bears. There are so many penguins that at least you get to see some. For me, it’s definitely the Antarctic. But actually, they’re both good.