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Erinnerungs-Medaille an die Deutsche Atlantische Expedition Meteor 1925-1927

German Atlantic Meteor Expedition of 1925-1927 Commemorative Medal

Erinnerungs-Medaille an die Deutsche Atlantische Expedition Meteor 1925-1927 was instituted and presented by the German Scientific Research Aid Society (Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft), scientific organization founded on October 30, 1920 with an objective to provide regional, disciplinary and political factions of the academic community with a central institution to facilitate raising and distributing funds for the totality of post-WWI German sciences and humanities. It also functioned in order to salvage German scientific research as well as specialized knowledge and experience gained from it. Another task of Society was to put public and private funds to their best possible use to that end.

German Atlantic Meteor Expedition Medal 3In 1925 Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft sponsored one of the most important oceanographic expeditions of the XX century that was undertaken by the German scientific ship “Meteor” commanded by the Fregattenkapitän Fritz Spieß (28.10.1881-19.02.1959). It still remains one of the most extensive oceanographic surveys ever undertaken. 

The “Meteor” sailed on April 16, 1925 and returned on June 02, 1927, so that her voyage had lasted more than 25 months, during which time 310 hydrographic stations had been worked and the ship had steamed more than 67,500 nautical miles. The “Meteor” traversed the Atlantic Ocean fourteen times from the northern tropics to Antarctica to generate profiles of the ocean between 20°N and 55°S. German scientists used 67,400 echo soundings to map the topography of the ocean floor, released over 800 observation balloons, and made 9,400 measurements of temperature, salinity and chemical content at varying depths. Analysis of the latter established the pattern of ocean water circulation, nutrient dispersal, and plankton growth. The expedition was also the first to make extensive studies of surface evaporation.

In fact, deep water echo sounding was extensively pioneered during the expedition. An analysis of 9,400 measurements of temperature, salinity and chemical content at varying depths established the pattern of ocean water circulation, nutrient dispersal and plankton growth. The “Meteor” was the first to record an entire ocean’s currents and make extensive studies of surface evaporation.

Besides main scientific objectives, the “Meteor” was charged with a secret ambitious task.

In accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, Germany as the “defeated” power was required to make payments worth 132 billion gold marks (approximately 50 tons of gold) in reparations “to cover civilian damage caused during the war”. Needless to say, that wasn’t a number that war-torn Germany could easily afford. As the gold reserves of Germany had been extremely exhausted during the Great War, Fritz Haber (09.12.1868-29.01.1934), a Nobel Prize winner (1918) and one of the Germany’s greatest scientific minds during the WWI, suggested an idea of extracting gold from seawater through a complicated electrochemical process and thus creating a whole new source of wealth for post-war Germany, one that would continue on well past the time their debt was paid. According to his original calculations, Fritz Haber figured that one metric ton of seawater would contain about 65 milligrams of gold. That in turn meant that every cubic mile of seawater would yield about 40 pounds of gold.

German Atlantic Meteor Expedition Medal 2All that was needed was a way to extract the gold, and Haber’s method included a complicated system of massive centrifuges and not a little bit of scientific know-how. He presented his findings to the government, and they authorized a two-year research jaunt in which scientists would travel the world measuring the different amounts of gold present in the different bodies of water.

“Meteor” took more than 5,000 seawater samples from discrete depths between South America and Africa, that were forwarded with strict secrecy requirements to the special Berlin-based chemistry laboratory of Fritz Haber. 

However, after 25 months of expedition it turned out that extraction of gold from seawater was not economical. Fritz Haber realized that he had made a mistake: at his original estimates, the amount of gold that could be extracted from the seawater would have made the project cost-effective. It would have been no small feat to fund the development and manufacture of the equipment needed and to power the whole venture, but the amount of gold would have meant they would have come out on top. Once Haber realized that he had overestimated the amount of gold in seawater – by about a thousand times – it just wasn’t a financially viable operation.

Nevertheless, from the standpoint of hydrographers and bathymetrists, the scientific expedition of the “Meteor” was a figurative gold mine. 

Obverse of the medal with raised border showed the “Meteor” under full sail eastwards upon stylized waves, the latter filling the bottom third of the face.

Reverse of the medal without border showed albatross in flight and inscription in capital letters: “German Atlantic” (“Deutsche Atlantische”) – above in two lines, and “Expedition Meteor 1925-27” – below in three lines.

Upper side of the medal had rectangular eyelet through which an ornamental suspension was attached. The latter had a shape of the horizontal olive branches that consisted of 23 leaves and five berries. Naval officers and civilian scientists were decorated with medals bearing gilt suspension, while members of the crew with those bearing silvered suspension.

Edge of the medal was stamped “Bav.[arian] Central Mint · Fine Silver” (“Bayer.[isches] Hauptmünzamt · Feinsilber”) in capital letters.

Erinnerungs-Medaille an die Deutsche Atlantische Expedition Meteor 1925-1927 was worn suspended from the light blue silk ribbon with white and dark grey 1 mm wide vertical stripes side by side, at each outer edge.

Circular medal measuring 41,5 mm in diameter and weighing 25 g was manufactured of silver at the Bavarian Central Mint (Bayerisches Hauptmünzamt).

Medal was issued in the presentation case covered with red leather-cloth. Its lid bore inscription stamped in gold letters “German Atlantic Meteor Expedition of 1925-1927 Commemorative Medal Presented by the German Scientific Research Aid Society” (“Erinnerungs-Medaille / an die / Deutsche Atlantische / Expedition Meteor / 1925 – 1927 / überreicht / von der / Notgemeinschaft / der Deutschen Wissenschaft”). Words “Deutsche Atlantische Expedition Meteor” were executed in capital letters. Interior of the case featuring a recessed space for the medal and ribbon was lined with black silk.

Totally 211 medals were presented: 23 awards of the 1st class and 188 awards of the 2nd class. Considering the complement aboard the “Meteor” numbered 123 men (10 officers, 29 NCOs, 78 sailors and six civilian scientists),it appears clear that other individuals connected with the scientific expedition, but not onboard, were also eligible for decoration with the commemorative medal. 

German Atlantic Meteor Expedition Medal 1