Bremerhaven 30.3.2017

The Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) is actively involved in unravelling the complex processes at work in the ‘Earth System’. Our planet is undergoing fundamental climate change; the polar regions and the oceans, which play central roles in the global climate system, are in flux. The AWI’s researchers operate various observatories that gather measurement data over longer timeframes. They research the atmosphere, ice, oceans and coasts. They explore the deep seas, the glaciers and the permafrost soils of the polar regions first-hand. And they analyze data from climate archives like sediment and ice core samples. The Institute’s work is characterized by a high degree of international and interdisciplinary collaboration: experts from the bio-, geo- and climate sciences work closely together at the AWI.

When we visited the institute our focus was on the bionic department. There they do research on unicellular planktonic organisms such as diatoms. Friedrich Hustedt described over 2000 diatom taxa and eventually amassed the largest private diatom collection in the world which is currently housed at the AWI. The diatomes have a major contribution to global primary production and have an essential effect on the oceans’ biogeochemistry. Marine key taxa like krill, fish, and whales basically depend on them.

They explore the principles that turn the exoskeletons (shells) of these organisms into extremely light and stable constructions. They found that the shells’ highly complex geometries have a large share in these characteristics. Based on these research results, they developed the bionic product creation process ELiSE in 2005.

Great thank to Klaus Valentin, Michael Kloster, Bánk Beszteri and for their insights.