French-German cooperation extended

June 28, 2006

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la MER (Ifremer) will be extending their contractual collaboration for another five years. On this occasion, the official ceremony in Paris on June 28 will be attended by the French Minister of Research. For almost a decade, both institutes have had extensive collaborations, concentrating, over the past years, on deep sea research, remotely operated underwater vehicles, and on marine technology. A new virtual institute will be consolidating the existing expertise in this field and will advance it further.

French-German collaboration
The cooperation between the Alfred Wegener Institute and the Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la MER (Ifremer) was sealed in 2001 through the 'Memorandum of Understanding' (MoU). This document identifies key areas of the collaboration and stipulates annual meetings at the directorial level. On June 28, 2006, the memorandum will be renewed in Paris in the presence of the French Minister of Research.

The need for a more efficient joint usage of large scale equipment in marine fundamental research represented an important driving force for the mutual efforts towards the agreement. Operation of Ifremer's remotely operated underwater vehicle 'Victor 6000' from the flagship of the Alfred Wegener Institute, the research icebreaker Polarstern, opened new research opportunities also for scientists from other European countries. Hence, AWI and Ifremer provided access to their infrastructure for European cooperative projects during several large expeditions. The institutional partnership has been consolidated further through financial contributions of the Alfred Wegener Institute, contractually committed towards a new working group for the innovation of instruments and sensors for 'Victor 6000'. Meanwhile, the underwater vehicles and tools of the collaboration partners have also been deployed on the respective other research vessels. In 2005, for instance, an autonomous diving robot of the Ifremer was operated from FS 'Heincke', and an equivalent vehicle of the Alfred Wegener Institute was used on the French 'Atalante' in the Barents Sea.

Cross-border virtual institute
Both institutes complement one another exceptionally well in the field of underwater technology. Close collaborations, as well as linking the concerned departments from both institutes, enable more efficient usage and further development of the costly infrastructure. The resulting expertise is unparalleled within Europe. The research programmes of both institutes have been complementing one another, and the joint appearance of AWI and Ifremer in European multipart projects represent further motives for the establishment of a virtual institute ('Virtual Institute of Underwater Systems and Technologies'). Primary tasks of this new institute will include optimisation and development of underwater equipment, educational training of engineering and natural science students and partnerships with maritime industries.

Sibling system to 'Victor 6000'
The next step is the construction of a sibling system to 'Victor 6000'. The instrument will have its home in Bremerhaven, however, in keeping with the cooperative spirit it will also be available on French vessels for research projects of the Ifremer and of other French institutes. The sibling system 'Victoria 4000' will be fundamentally compatible to 'Victor 6000'. All existing as well as future instruments will be exchangeable between both systems. The same applies to the software, already developed, which facilitates processing and analysis of vast quantities of data produced during underwater operations. 'Victoria 4000' will not only bear much less total weight than Victor 6000, but it will also incorporate the latest technology, representing a system of the next generation that is competitive in a global context. Financial requirements for the completion of 'Victoria 4000' are estimated to be at least five million euros. With an estimated eight months of operation - shared equally by AWI and Ifremer - and an operational crew of seven engineers, the annual personnel costs will amount to approximately 300,000 euros.
Bremerhaven, June 23, 2006
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The AWI is one of 15 research centres of the 'Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft' (Helmholtz Association), the largest scientific organisation in Germany.The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in oceans of temperate and high latitudes. The AWI coordinates polar research in Germany, and provides important infrastructure, such as the research icebreaker 'Polarstern', for international scientific enterprises.

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