On the way to Antarctica #ST48 [fr]
Organised by France, the 43rd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) will be held from June 14 to 24. This annual event is the foundation of international collaboration for the protection of this continent dedicated to peace and research. France and Australia are working closely on numerous on-site scientific projects to study climate and biodiversity, including the Polar Pod project, a vertical oceanographic vessel designed by the explorer Jean-Louis Etienne.
While it is still difficult to know whether the evolution of the pandemic will make it possible for delegations to physically gather in Paris, or if the ATCM will have to be held by videoconference, a website (https://atcm43paris.fr/en) dedicated to this event for members of delegations and for the public has been put on line by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. Open to all, this site provides an opportunity to learn about Antarctic issues, the role of the ATCMs and France’s action in Antarctica.
Indeed, the Antarctic Treaty, signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 on the initiative of France and Australia, lays down important provisions on the protection of this continent dedicated to scientific research and international cooperation, supplemented by the Protocol on Environmental Protection signed on 4 October 1991 - known as the "Madrid Protocol". To date, this international system has been very effective in making Antarctica a ’nature reserve for peace and science’. The website of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (https://www.ats.aq/index_e.html) contains the history of this cooperation.
In this context, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings are annual exchanges implementing the principles of the Treaty and the Protocol, by renewing regulations and management guidelines. These measures, decisions and resolutions are adopted by consensus of the Consultative Parties (the only ones participating in the decision-making process).
These decisions, relating to research, tourism and fishing activities, are enlightened by data from researchers from many countries working in Antarctica. On this point, France is a long-standing polar nation, with active actors such as:
The Paul-Emile Victor French Polar Institute (IPEV), which operates the two French base stations in Antarctica, the French station Dumont d’Urville and the French-Italian station Concordia,
The National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), significantly involved in the working groups and governing bodies of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, spokesperson for international science at the ATCM and at the Committee for the Protection of the Environment (CPE), and
The senior administrator of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF), the national authority supervising French human activities in Antarctica (Adelie Land) and the French sub-Antarctic archipelagos (Kerguelen, Crozet). This administrator also owns the Astrolabe icebreaker patrol vessel, armed by the French Navy and coordinated by the IPEV.
Manchot Adélie @TAAF
Regarding the scientific collaboration, on 16 March 2021, the French explorer Jean-Louis Etienne presented to the international press the launch of the Polar Pod project, a 100-meter-high oceanographic platform manned by three sailors and four scientists, specially designed to drift around Antarctica in the Roaring Forties. The boat is expected to sail for 3 years, and achieve the tour around Antarctica twice, sending measurements on climate, biodiversity and pollution in Antarctica in near real time for the international scientific community.
The four areas of study of this scientific programme are:
Study of atmospheric-ocean exchanges (heat, gas, material, etc.),
Census of biodiversity, with DNA, microscope and acoustics analysis,
Validation of satellite measurements (calibration with on-site measurements is of interest to many space agencies),
Impact of human activities (micro-plastics, contaminants and noise pollution).
Supported by the CNRS, the CNES (French Centre for Space Studies) and Ifremer (French Institute on Marine Science) on the French side, and also many international partners, the ship is expected to begin construction soon for a planned launch in 2023. Its construction should meet three expectations of the scientific community: conduct long-term campaigns in the Southern Ocean, reduce the ecological footprint of oceanographic expeditions and achieve an extremely low daily cost at sea.
Australia is involved through David Antoine, CNRS Research Director at the Villefranche Oceanography Laboratory and Professor at Curtin University (Perth, Western Australia), who is the scientific coordinator of the project. The expedition will also have a science outreach component aimed at school children and the general public.