Our Chief Scientist

By Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Gerhard Bohrmann, age 63, Professor
for marine geosciences at the University of
Bremen, one of the world 's most renowned gas hydrate researchers.

Hallmark: the gift of relating everything.

Sothern most point of South Georgia (2019/2019)Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Position 56° 05,28’ South, 30° 19,12’ West: back-arc of South Sandwich Islands

Current water depth: 2650 meters Wind: 16 knots Wave height: 2 meters Air temperature: -3 °C Water: 2.4 °C The view of the sea surface is beautiful, but for Gerhard Bohrmann only of short-term interest. Our chief scientist wants to move onto the seabed - with an amazing pinpoint concentration. Maybe because, after more than 45 expeditions on almost all oceans, he carries the vastness of the oceans in himself. The sea - it keeps pushing him to new questions, and answers, and most often it fills him with knowledge that leads to further questions. Constantly searching, paying attention to every little detail, marveling, finding interactions, creating connections. Keeping the direction and the overview.

Concentration (2019/2019)Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Only a few meters to the seafloor. The cameras of our Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) send the first pictures to the big screen, which is installed in the winch control room of "Polarstern". A dark, rough landscape can be seen - "Pillow Basalt" as far as the eye can see. We are on the East Scotia Ridge. Here, the plates spread five to six centimeters a year, lava flows from greater depths of 2 to 4 kilometers. New, fresh seabed is created in the shape of pillows.

Gerhard Bohrmann straightens his headset to record the communication with the two pilots and the two scientists in the control container of the ROV.

Once again he looks at the updated maps that have been prepared from data recorded during last night’s shift. Printed two-dimensional on paper, they become, in his mind's eye, three-dimensional spaces in which the marine geologist is roaming now. Underwater worlds that want to be discovered.

On the Working Deck of "Polarstern" (2019/2019)Federal Ministry of Education and Research

During previous cruises, Gerhard Bohrmann and his team were able to demonstrate - for the first time ever - methane gas emissions and gas hydrates in the southern polar region, which no one has ever discovered before. These oases on the seabed are considered as sources of life in deeper water depths. Crabs, snails, clams and other organisms are living here through symbiosis even though there is no sunlight. They derive their life energy from chemical substances that escape from the seafloor seeps. We want to find and examine such hot vents and cold seeps on this expedition.

More than 200 years ago, Alexander von Humboldt wrote: "Every piece of knowledge is preceded by an early intuition." A spirit of inquiry that is still needed today in order to discover something new. Gerhard Bohrmann seems to have it, this spirit of exploration, this Humboldtian "early intuition", an unmistakable feeling where he has to go deeper into the bottom of the sea.

Again and again he has made surprising discoveries, together with his team, such as asphalt volcanoes in the Gulf of Mexico or oil sources in the Black Sea, which nobody had suspected there, and repeatedly discovering interesting gas hydrate sites.


He speaks calmly and objectively about all these discoveries, weighs carefully, avoids, modest as he is, superlatives and headlines. Above all, he has the great gift of drawing the right conclusions from all the data and samples obtained so far, so that pure data becomes insights, and create knowledge. He himself, of course, would never say it that way. Gerhard Bohrmann is a pleasantly restrained person who, as a scientist, does not spare himself or his team, because research time at sea is precious and every expedition is a major logistical and scientific challenge.

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Bohrmann (2019/2019)Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Years of planning precede each research cruise. Every cruise must be requested by a research proposal. Research permits in the respective territorial waters need to be obtained, and all scientific equipment needed for the work must be available at the right time.

Then, finally, at sea, seven weeks of doing research under often extreme conditions, deploying instuments even in the storms, to unlock the secrets of the ocean, so that we all better understand our "Earth system ".

During one of the previous cruises, where we accompanied our chief scientist, an expedition participant from America said: "Gerhard is still a true Ocean Explorer, who explores the seas with great passion, with sense and high scientific expertise."

Every now and then, though, a scientist like Gerhard Bohrmann needs a break. Onshore he sometimes allows himself a few hours without science, watching a football match or enjoying a concert of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, preferably when conductor Paavo Järvi is at the podium. Floating in a sea of music.

Or, the night before boarding, he dives into a historic place - the Shackleton bar in Punta Arenas.

In those famous rooms where Shackleton and his crew were received after their rescue, we discuss what awaits us at sea in the forthcoming weeks.

Credits: Story

PHOTOGRAPHY: Holger von Neuhoff
TEXT: Stephanie von Neuhoff

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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