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Research vessels

A good 70 per cent of the Earth's surface is covered by oceans. That's more than 350 million km² on the surface and a massive 1.3 billion km3 in volume. They play a crucial role in the climate system, are sources of new raw materials, home to a wide variety of creatures and increasingly a site for human activity. To explore the oceans on the ground, research vessels are indispensable.

Marine researchers are tracking down the processes in the oceans with sophisticated technologies: remote-controlled underwater vehicles, mobile seabed drilling equipment or systems anchored on the bottom for long-term recording of chemical and physical data. They are also deployed from research vessels. A modern and efficient research fleet is therefore important to meet the diverse tasks of marine research. See for yourself the diversity of the German research fleet and learn more about the seas on which the ships are deployed.




Year of manufacture: 1990

Operator: GEOMAR

Width: 12.5 m

Length: 55.2 m

The 55-metre-long vehicle has four laboratories where, among other things, air, water and sediment samples can be examined. JAGO, the only manned German submersible, is also occasionally deployed on the ALKOR, for example to study cold-water corals in the Skagerrak. The ALKOR, named after a star in the image of the Great Bears, was built as the successor to a research cutter of the same name.


Year of manufacture: 2020

Operator: BSH

Width: 16.80 m

Length: 75 m

The new ATAIR is the world's first seagoing authority vessel for special tasks with a propulsion system for low-emission liquefied natural gas (LNG) and thus meets the highest environmental requirements. The tasks of the new ATAIR include sea surveying and wreck search. In addition, it will carry out marine survey missions such as the annual summer survey, for which the BSH previously chartered a research vessel each year. The ATAIR is underway in the North Sea and Baltic Sea as well as in the North-East Atlantic.


Year of manufacture: 2012

Operator: Thünen Institute

Width: 7.88 m

Length: 28.8 m

The CLUPEA works mainly in the coastal fisheries areas of the south-western Baltic Sea, but can also be deployed in the North Sea. Floating and bottom trawls, bottom-set nets and longlines, fishery biological and plankton nets as well as oceanographic probes are used. The name CLUPEA comes from the scientific name of the herring. Clupea harengus has been traded in large quantities in Europe since the Middle Ages and is still an important "bread fish" of the German coastal fishery.


Year of manufacture: 1994

Operator: BSH

Width: 11.40 m

Length: 51.92 m

The DENEB is a sister ship to the WEGA, built in 1990. Its tasks are sea surveying and wreck search, mainly sounding out the German coastal waters in the North Sea and Baltic Sea in order to provide precise and up-to-date data for the BSH's nautical charts, recreational craft charts and other nautical publications. If required, also nautical surveys in international coastal waters, marine and nautical-technical investigations.


Year of manufacture: 1987

Operator: IOW

Width: 10.8 m

Length: 56.56 m

The "Elisabeth Mann Borgese" replaces the "Professor Albrecht Penck", which was taken out of scientific service in August 2010. Her area of operation is primarily the Baltic Sea. The "Schwedeneck", previously used by the Navy's Defence Technology Service, is now equipped and available for civilian research. The ship has a total of 97 m² of laboratory space and a functional, large working deck. It can accommodate twelve scientists and a crew of eleven.


Year of manufacture: 1990

Operator: Alfred Wegener Institute

Width: 12.5 m

Length: 54.2 m

The research vessel HEINCKE was designed for longer research trips. It can stay at sea for up to 30 days on its expeditions in the North Sea and Baltic Sea without having to call at a port. The almost 55-metre-long Heincke is the second largest ship in the AWI fleet. The ship is at sea a good 250 days a year and offers up to twelve scientists a place to live and work. FS Heincke's operational areas are the North Sea and the North Atlantic. In the summer months, the research vessel even sails as far as the Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen.


Year of manufacture: 1975

Operator: GEOMAR

Width: 7.4 m

Length: 29.8 m

The LITTORINA, which translates as periwinkle, mainly sails the Baltic and North Seas, but can also be deployed in the English Channel and on the Norwegian coast. And by no means at a snail's pace. The ship reaches a maximum speed of 10 knots, the equivalent of 18 kilometres per hour. On voyages lasting several days, the LITTORINA can accommodate 6 scientists; on day voyages, a maximum of a dozen scientists can take part. The technical equipment allows the researchers to take water and sediment samples from depths of up to 500 metres.


Year of manufacture: 1983

Operator: Hereon

Width: 6.25 m

Length: 31 m

Due to its shallow draft of maximum 1.70 metres, it can be used not only in the North Sea and Baltic Sea, but also in the Wadden Sea and in estuaries. This makes her the ideal platform for researchers to conduct various studies of the coastal region. In 2002, the LUDWIG PRANDTL was enlarged and equipped with state-of-the-art technology. On board is a laboratory where the samples can be further processed. In addition to a hydraulic folding crane and a winch, the scientists have a wide variety of measuring instruments at their disposal.


Year of manufacture: 2006

Operator: German Research Vessel Control Centre

Width: 19.2 m

Length: 94.8 m

The MARIA S. MERIAN is also equipped for research work on the ice edge of the North Atlantic - she can break ice up to 60 cm thick and move between floating ice floes. In order to manoeuvre the MERIAN with precision, it has been equipped with a special propulsion system. Under the hull are two propellers that can rotate 360°. This allows the ship to precisely maintain a given position at sea.


Year of manufacture: 1986

Operator: German Research Vessel Control Centre

Width: 16.5 m

Length: 97.5 m

The research vessel METEOR is primarily used for basic marine research. Scientists from different disciplines work closely together on expeditions. Cooperation with international research groups also plays an important role in everyday life on board. The METEOR can operate at sea for up to 50 days without having to call at a port in between. Enough time for the 28 scientists on board to use the 20 well-equipped laboratories. Sufficient space on deck as well as 17 winches and cranes enable the research groups to upgrade the ship according to their ideas. For example, they can set up additional laboratory containers or use manned and unmanned submersibles.


Year of manufacture: 2013

Operator: Alfred Wegener Institute

Width: 6.26 m

Length: 21.7 m

Up to twelve scientists conduct research on board Mya II. With the help of the ship's modern equipment, researchers observe, for example, material flows between the different levels of the food web. Geologists use various measurement data to calculate, among other things, where which sediments are deposited, what the structure of the seabed is like and for which organisms it is suitable as a habitat. Mya II is also a training ship for young scientists - they learn how to use modern oceanographic equipment on board Mya II.


Year of manufacture: 1982

Operator: GEOMAR

Width: 4.4 m

Length: 12.7 m

Arctic fox

The research boat POLARFUCHS originally served as a laboratory tender for the research icebreaker POLARSTERN. After some conversion work, the research boat was handed over to the then IFM-GEOMAR for operation in 1997. There it is used on the Schleswig-Holstein coast, especially for ecological studies. For this purpose, the POLARFUCHS is equipped with a multi-purpose laboratory and a small 4-drum winch. In addition to research, the boat is also used for teaching in practical courses and collecting data for theses.


Year of manufacture: 1982

Operator: Alfred Wegener Institute

Width: 25 m

Length: 118 m

The POLARSTERN is considered one of the most efficient research icebreakers in the world. Since her maiden voyage in 1982, she has undertaken numerous expeditions to the polar seas. As a double-walled icebreaker, it can operate at temperatures as low as -50° C. Thanks to its 20,000 hp engine, the ship is capable of carrying out a large number of research expeditions. Thanks to 20,000 hp of engine power, the ship can pass through ice floes one and a half metres thick at a speed of 5 knots - thicker ice has to be broken by ramming.


Year of manufacture: 1976

Operator: Senckenberg Society

Width: 7.6 m

Length: 29.5 m

The Senckenberg is a German research cutter belonging to the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung in Frankfurt am Main. The cutter is stationed in Wilhelmshaven at the Department of Marine Research, a branch of the Senckenberg Research Institute.


Year of manufacture: 2004

Operator: Thünen Institute

Width: 10 m

Length: 42.7 m


The medium-sized "Solea" is used in the sea areas of small-scale deep-sea fishing (Baltic Sea, North Sea). On the research cruises we use floating and bottom trawls, beam trawls, fishery biological and plankton nets as well as oceanographic probes. During the construction of the "Solea", care was taken to reduce underwater noise emissions as much as possible. It is the quietest vessel in its class and therefore particularly suitable for the acoustic recording of small schooling fish in the North and Baltic Seas.


Year of manufacture: 2014

Operator: German Research Vessel Control Centre

Width: 20.6 m

Length: 116 m

With a length of 116 metres and a width of just under 21 metres, the SONNE can accommodate up to 40 scientists and a crew of 35. The main areas of operation of the new research vessel are the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In addition to marine raw materials and the effects of human activities on nature, the scientific and socially relevant questions that the "Sun" will help to answer include the role of the sea areas in global material cycles and climate development.


Year of manufacture: 1982

Operator: Alfred Wegener Institute

Width: 8.5 m

Length: 30.5 m

On the UTHÖRN, biological and also geological samples are collected for marine research, and teaching events are held. Up to 25 passengers can take day trips to see how research equipment is used on ships. The UTHÖRN, named after a side island of Sylt, has a wet and a dry laboratory, whose facilities can be adapted to the respective research objective, as well as several fishing nets.


Year of manufacture: 1993

Operator: Thünen Institute

Width: 15.22 m

Length: 64.50 m

The ship is named after Walther Herwig (1838-1912), the "father" of German deep-sea fishing and co-initiator of European, internationally coordinated fisheries research. With a length of almost 65 m, the WALTHER HERWIG III is the largest of the three German fisheries research vessels. The stern trawler with towing gear is used in the sea areas of large-scale deep-sea fishing (North Sea, Baltic Sea and North Atlantic), the research voyages usually extend over 2 to 7 weeks. Floating and bottom trawls as well as plankton nets and other fishing gear can be used.


Year of manufacture: 1990

Operator: BSH

Width: 11.40 m

Length: 52.06 m

Die WEGA ist ein Schwesterschiff der bereits 1987 in Dienst gestellten ATAIR. Aufgaben sind Seevermessung und Wracksuche, dabei überwiegend Auslotung der deutschen Küstengewässer in Nord- und Ostsee, um präzise und aktuelle Daten für die Seekarten, Sportbootkarten und weiteren nautischen Publikationen des BSH zu liefern. Bei Bedarf auch Seevermessung in internationalen Küstengewässern, meereskundliche und nautisch-technische Untersuchungen.

Koordination der Ships

Verschiedene Organisationen sind an dem Betrieb der deutschen Forschungsschiffe beteiligt. Das „Portal Deutsche Forschungsschiffe“ ist die zentrale Anlaufstelle für die Beantragung von Schiffszeit für die größeren und mittelgroßen Forschungsschiffe. Für die Einsatzplanung sind dann die jeweiligen Schiffsbetreiber zuständig. Die Einsatzplanung der kleineren Forschungsschiffe wird von ihren Heimatinstitutionen direkt durchgeführt.

Portal deutsche Forschungsschiffe

Das Portal deutsche Forschungsschiffe ist die zentrale Anlaufstelle zum Einreichen von Fahrtvorschlägen für die Forschungsschiffe POLARSTERN, SONNE, METEOR, MARIA S. MERIAN, ALKOR, HEINCKE und ELISABETH MANN BORGESE.

Gutachterpanel Forschungsschiffe

Die Vergabe von Schiffszeit für die deutschen Forschungsschiffe POLARSTERN, SONNE, METEOR, MARIA S. MERIAN, ALKOR, HEINCKE und ELISABETH MANN BORGESE erfolgt auf der Grundlage wissenschaftlicher Fahrtvorschläge, welche durch das von der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) und dem Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) einsetzte Gutachterpanel Forschungsschiffe (GPF) bewertet werden. Positiv begutachtete Fahrtvorschläge können von den jeweiligen Schiffsbetreibern in die Fahrtplanung empfohlen. 

Leitstelle Deutsche Forschungsschiffe

Am CEN – Centrum für Erdsystemforschung und Nachhaltigkeit der Universität Hamburg ist die Leitstelle Deutsche Forschungsschiffe (LDF) angesiedelt, welche als Betreiberin für die weltweit operierenden Forschungsschiffe SONNE, METEOR und MARIA S. MERIAN eingesetzt ist

Neben der Einsatz- bzw. Fahrtplanung ist die LDF für die wissenschaftlich-technische, logistische und finanzielle Vorbereitung, Abwicklung und Betreuung des Betriebs der ihr überlassenen Schiffe verantwortlich. Hierbei arbeitet die LDF partnerschaftlich mit den jeweiligen Fahrtleitungen unterschiedlicher Forschungseinrichtungen zusammen und ist gleichzeitig Partner der Vertragsreederei, mit der auch die stetige Modernisierung der Schiffe geplant und umgesetzt wird.

AWI Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung (AWI) betreibt den Forschungs-Eisbrecher POLARSTERN sowie die Forschungsschiffe HEINCKE, UTHÖRN und MYA II. 

GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

Das GEOMAR Helmholtz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel ist Betreiber der Forschungsschiffe ALKOR, LITTORINA und POLARFUCHS.

Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde

Das Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde (IOW) betreibt das Forschungsschiff ELISABETH MANN BORGESE.

Senckenberg by the Sea, Wilhelmshaven

Das Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg am Meer in Wilhelmshaven betreibt das Forschungsschiff SENCKENBERG.

Helmholtz Centre Hereon, Geesthacht

Das Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon in Geesthacht betreibt das Forschungsschiff LUDWIG PRANDL.


Das Thünen-Institut betreibt im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (BMEL) drei Fischereiforschungsschiffe.

Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency

Das Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (BSH) betreibt im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur (BMVI) fünf Vermessungs-, Wracksuch- und Forschungsschiffe