A drifting polar station will study the Arctic for 20 years

Returning to the Arctic for the Tara Ocean Foundation, which has criss-crossed the world’s oceans with its scientific schooner since 2004. On June 21, 2022, after five years of development in the utmost secrecy, Romain Troublé, CEO of the Foundation, announced the launch construction of a drifting polar station that will explore the North Ocean for 20 years. Why the Arctic? “Because it is THE guardian of climate changehe explains. As the sea ice melts, the exposed ocean absorbs more of the sun’s rays, causing the temperature of the water to rise. We need to understand what’s happening in the North to be able to predict what’s going to happen in the South.”. The strange, flying saucer-like ship, designed by Breton architect Olivier Petit, should make it possible to carry out successive drifts in the ice with the aim of better understanding the seasonal dynamics of these regions and their evolutions.

2006 the schooner Tara was embedded in pack ice for 507 days

In 1893, Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen was the first to become entangled in the Arctic ice aboard the sailboat frame for a drift that lasted three difficult years. 2006 the schooner Tara had in turn crept into the pack ice to be carried by the ice currents for 507 days. A journey twice as fast as Nansen’s a century ago. This drift had revealed the upheavals underway in the boreal regions of the earth: 70% of the volume of its pack ice has thus disappeared in 40 years!

This time, the scientific adventure wants to study all the phenomena that take place in the boreal ocean, from the atmospheric layers to the great depths. “We are already measuring an average increase in global temperatures of 1.1°C compared to pre-industrial times.says Gerard Krinner, researcher at the Institute for Environmental Geosciences in Grenoble. And the region most affected by this warming is the Arctic: this is where the most drastic changes are measured. And over the next 20 years, the ocean will be increasingly ice-free. A new, still unknown system is introduced. In addition, the Arctic borders with Siberia, Canada and Greenland. The latter is covered by a 3 km long ice cap that is about to melt. This will be one of the main contributors to sea level rise. The melting of icy soils, permafrost is releasedIt is made up of organic material which, as it decomposes, could provide a mechanism for amplifying global warming. The Arctic is the hotspot of the global climate system. It is necessary to monitor it“.

Photo credit: Tara Ocean Foundation – Olivier Petit

The Arctic are also organisms adapted to a hostile environment that is without light half the year, bathed in photons the other half, and where temperatures can drop to -41°C. How will they adapt? Especially when other species migrate north in search of cooler waters… In addition, the North Pole forms a kind of oceanic cul-de-sac where pollutants (plastic, mercury, etc.) accumulate. . So many subjects of study for the scientists from all over the world who will live together in this station during the nightless days of polar summer and the entire night of 140 days in winter. A first drift of 7 months is planned for 2025, then the missions will follow one another until 2045.

Polar dogs for protection against bears

The 400 m aluminum base2 can embark a crew of 12 in winter and 20 in summer for missions of 18 months. Half of these crews will be scientists and half will be sailors, a cook and a doctor. Two polar dogs will be there, especially to protect against polar bears during expeditions on the ice floe. Equipped with wind turbines, solar panels and fuel from recycling used cooking oils, the station has an optimized oval shape to limit heat loss. It will have 12 cabins, a sauna, a medical room, laboratories and an underwater vent for easy water sampling. Waste water is filtered or recycled, fresh water is obtained through desalination. Sensors for atmospheric data and aerosols will be installed on the roof and for the physico-chemical parameters of the water on the hull.

On April 5, on the sidelines of the presentation of the French polar strategy for 2030, the project received the support of Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, Ambassador of Poland and Maritime Affairs. He was then allocated 13 million euros, enough to complete the 18 million budget necessary for its construction.

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