French scientific research in Antarctica
France has two research stations in Antarctica: the Dumont d’Urville station, in the coastal zone of the Adelie Earth (Figure 1), and the Concordia station, on the Antarctic high plateau (Figure 2). The Institut Polaire Française Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV) is the national resources agency that manages these two stations in partnership, in the case of Concordia, with the Programma Nazionale di Ricerche in Antartide (PNRA), since this station is Franco-Italian.
The IPEV, created in 1992, is a Public Interest Group, based in Brest, and composed of 9 members: the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the CNRS, Ifremer, the CEA, the CNES, Météo-France, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF) and the French Polar Expeditions (EPF). Its main purpose is to select, coordinate, support and implement national and international science and technology programmes in the polar, northern and southern regions.
In this context, the IPEV supports annually about 80 projects in both the Arctic and Antarctic on various themes such as :
- The distribution of fauna and flora and the evolution of biodiversity
- Survival strategies and adaptation of species to extreme conditions
- The response of living organisms to climate change and human activities
- Earth physics, geodynamics and geology
- Atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, including ozone chemistry
- Glaciology and paleoclimatology
- Human biology and adaptation to wintering conditions in Antarctica.
To supply the two stations Dumont d’Urville and Concordia, the IPEV operates, in partnership with the TAAF and the French Navy, a new icebreaker, the Astrolabe (Figure 3), which made its first trips to Antarctica in late 2017, from the port of Hobart, Tasmania (Australia). Then, between Dumont d’Urville and Concordia, equipment, fuel and food are transported by land, using convoys on ice (Figure 4), the result of the development and know-how of the IPEV, which has become the leader in this type of movement.
These heavy infrastructures (stations, ships, land convoys, planes, helicopters) are naturally expensive but are essential to enable France to participate in the international research effort in Antarctica and to maintain its position among the countries that contribute most widely to it. Thus, France ranks 5th among countries publishing on Antarctica; in Europe, only Germany and the United Kingdom are ahead.
This French scientific excellence in Antarctica is naturally due to the researchers involved, coming from various research organizations, primarily the CNRS, but also to the existence of quality research infrastructures in Antarctica, and to the presence of the IPEV resources agency that maintains, manages and offers access to them to the scientific community.
It is in particular thanks to its scientific presence that France can now play a leading role in the unique governance of the Antarctic Treaty System.