Will the French polar stations be closed due to the increase in fuel oil?

“We are very worried: the Polar Institute is going straight to the wall. We even considered closing the (Franco-Italian) Concordia station, on the extreme limit. And a closure is irreversible,” warns Catherine Ritz, a glaciologist and president of the board of directors of the Paul-Émile Victor Polar Institute (IPEV), based in Brest.

Logistical support for French research, the IPEV allows 320 scientists to carry out their work at the poles each year. But most of its resources are absorbed by two stations in Antarctica: Dumont d’Urville, near the coast of Adélie Land, and Concordia, 1,100 km inland.

Inaugurated with the Italians in 2005, this latest station is one of only three bases within a continent the size of Europe. Scientists there observe exoplanets, study Earth’s magnetism and follow the evolution of the ice cap.

“Essential Science”

40 km from Concordia, the European project “Beyond Epica” aims, for example, to obtain an ice core of 1.5 million years to study climate variations and greenhouse gases in the very long term. “It’s essential science,” says climatologist Jean Jouzel. “The French scientific community is up to the task, but without logistical support we can’t do it,” he adds.

Because working in these extreme conditions (-55°C on average) requires enormous resources. To prevent the polar cold from destroying its infrastructure, Concordia must be heated by fuel throughout the year. It is also supplied from the coast by incursions of tractors that drag caravans and containers of food, all in twenty days round trip.

“To produce a liter of drinking water in Concordia, a liter of fuel oil is needed. And another liter of fuel oil is needed to carry this liter of fuel oil to the station”, summarizes Catherine Ritz.

“On the ground it becomes difficult”

The station alone absorbs half of IPEV’s €18 million budget. And with the explosion in the prices of fuel oil, plane tickets and maritime transport, the Institute has incurred a deficit of 3.7 million euros this year, without the State foreseeing an extension in the 2023 budget.

“It’s terrible,” says glaciologist Amaëlle Landais, according to whom researchers are already forced to “play” with “aging infrastructure.” “We have seen the situation gradually deteriorate. On the ground it becomes difficult”, she testifies.

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