Lufthansa takes off with polar explorers to a 13,700-kilometer Nonstop Journey

Routing Hamburg-Falkland Islands/Image: Lufthansa

On Sunday, January 31, 2021, a Lufthansa Airbus A350-900 will take off for the longest nonstop flight in Lufthansa history: 13,700 kilometers from Hamburg to the military base Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands. On board there will be scientists and crew members of the research vessel “Polarstern”.

At 9:30 p.m., it’s “Ready for take-off” for 16 crew members and 92 passengers. On board the special flight are scientists who have been commissioned by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven, for the upcoming expedition with the research vessel Polarstern on the 15-hour flight. The Airbus, with the registration D-AIXP, is one of the world’s most sustainable and economical long-haul aircraft.

The Lufthansa Airbus A350-900, D-AIXP, christened “Braunschweig” is one of the most sustainable and economical aircraft in the company’s fleet/Photo: Lufthansa



As the hygienic requirements around this flight are extremely high, the Lufthansa crew went into quarantine two weeks ago at the same time as the passengers in a hotel in Bremerhaven, accompanied by a virtual information and sports program. Overall, the preparations for the special flight are enormous, starting with additional training for the pilots and ending with special electronic flight and landing charts, the company says. Because catering and cleaning at the destination is not possible, the aircraft will already be supplied with catering in Frankfurt. In addition, cleaning materials and vacuum cleaners for the Falkland Islands will be provided because local ground crews are not allowed to board the aircraft after landing. Therefore, the Lufthansa crew is enlarged by technicians and ground staff for on-site handling and maintenance.

Research icebreaker Polarstern/Photo: Helmholtz Center

After landing on the Falkland Islands, the scientists and the members of the ship’s crew will continue their journey to Antarctica. Two days later, they will set off from Port Stanley on the research icebreaker Polarstern of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) on their two-month expedition to the Antarctic Weddell Sea. The target region is the area off the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf far to the south of the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean.

The scientists of the Polarstern expedition want to continue long-term data measurements in the Southern Ocean this year, because they form the basis for understanding polar processes and urgently needed climate predictions. Even under pandemic conditions, the international science team can set off for Antarctica after a good two weeks of quarantine and several negative corona tests. 

Investigating the interaction and changes in the ocean-ice-biology system in the context of climate change

The researchers aim to decipher the interactions and changes of the ocean-ice-biology system in climate change and better predict their consequences. “These processes influence both sea level rise and the global carbon cycle and thus the ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in the long term,” explains Dr. Hartmut Hellmer, physical oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute and leader of the expedition.

On the continental slope north of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, the water depth rises rapidly from a few hundred meters to over 3,000 meters. Large volumes of cold ice shelf water and saline shelf water meet relatively warm deep water from the north here and mix. This deep water formation is an essential part of the global ocean circulation, through which acidic and nutrient-rich water flows from the high latitudes toward the equator and, in turn, heat reaches the polar regions. The mixing of water masses, in turn, causes modified warm deep water to flow toward the ice shelf, where it can melt the ice shelf – the outcrops of glaciers that float on the sea – from below. “Our own data from 2014 to 2018 and measurements from Norwegian and French colleagues indicate that warm deep water spread more intensively and further toward the ice shelf in 2017 than in comparable years. Therefore, we are now very excited to see what the measurements since 2018 will show us,” reports Hartmut Hellmer.

Sea level rise and a change in ocean circulation

“A permanent warming would affect the ocean circulation under the entire Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf. Our model calculations show that the ice shelf could melt more from below around the middle of our century, accelerating the input of inland ice. The additional freshwater input would result in a rise in sea level and a change in ocean circulation and sea ice formation with consequences for the entire biology of the upper water column,” says the AWI oceanographer.

Seals will also act as helpers for the research in the near future: up to twelve Weddell seals will receive sensors that measure salinity, temperature and depth. Biologists stick them on the animals’ heads; at the next of the annual fur changes, the seals will also take off the transmitter. The transmitters will send the data collected underwater to the home institutes via satellite. The diving patterns of the seals under the ice also show where larger quantities of food organisms are likely to be found, because this is the only place where the seals will stay for a longer period of time to hunt.

Due to legal requirements in the Falkland Islands, the Lufthansa crew will be quarantined again after landing. The return flight will depart on February 3 with destination Munich. The landing is expected on Thursday, February 4 at 14:00. On board will then also be crews of the Polarstern, which had departed from Bremerhaven on December 20.

Source: Corporate Communications Lufthansa Group, IDW

The latest coverage of Lufthansa’s flight to the Falkland Islands can be found on the social media channels: @lufthansaNews (Twitter) and @lufthansaviews (Instagram) – #LHLongestFlight.

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