Princess Elisabeth Antarctica viewed from the sky

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Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Celebrates Five Years of Successful Operations

Brussels, Belgium, February 13, 2014 -- This Saturday, February 15th, the International Polar Foundation celebrates five years of successful operations since the inauguration of Antarctica’s only zero emission polar research station, Princess Elisabeth Antarctica [1]. The station’s team in Antarctica will mark the occasion with a small ceremony, to be held under the first Full Moon of the season.

The anniversary comes in the busy closing weeks of a challenging Antarctic season, which notably included the successful unloading of vital cargo from a ship directly onto the Antarctic ice shelf at a new site, 120km east of the usual location at Crown Bay. The new location allowed unloading of heavy machinery from the Mary Arctica, such as the donated Komatsu hybrid excavator, without risk to the unloading crew from Princess Elisabeth Antarctica.   The sea ice had opened just long enough to allow the Mary Arctica to reach the new unloading site, but then abruptly closed, leaving her unable to exit the pack.  For ten days, Captain Jan Kondrup of the Mary Arctica attempted every route but the ice was implacable.  Finally, on choosing a heading based on the “water sky” [2] phenomenon, he turned the ship towards the nearest signs of open water and navigated successfully towards the open seas.

In addition to managing the supply and logistics operations at the station International Polar Foundation is responsible for providing science support at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station for the scientists who come to the station - support that is sometimes provided at short notice [3].

“During these five incredible years at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, we have been able to support scientists from Belgium, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, France, Norway, Great Britain, the US, Russia, Switzerland and several other countries”, said Expedition Leader Alain Hubert, President of the International Polar Foundation [4]. “It’s our job to provide a professional service to both science and the Antarctic environment, but it’s still moving to receive top marks from both Antarctic Treaty inspections and from scientists who work alongside us here.”

Since the World’s first zero emission research station entered service on February 15th 2009, the International Polar Foundation has received international recognition for its high-performance management of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica. In January 2013, a joint German-South African inspection of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica [5], under the Antarctic Treaty and Protocol on Environmental Protection, commended to all Parties to the Treaty the station’s energy and waste management systems, and commented on the “excellent science is undertaken by internationally staffed expeditions that do field work” around the station. Annual evaluation reports by scientists working at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica regularly commend the crew for the services provided at the station [6]. 

"The creation of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, and the ongoing support of the International Polar Foundation, gave us the necessary support for the installation of three continuous GPS stations for the IceCon project”, said Dr Nicolas Bergeot, a geophysicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium.  The IceCon project  [8] is investigating Antarctic ice mass balance - the rate of loss of ice from the continent. “The station’s staff were very effective in helping and advising our scientific team for the preparation of two missions in 2012 and 2013, and also while we were in the field they provided logistics, and assured our safety and the maintenance of our equipment."

“Princess Elisabeth Antarctica has opened up brand new research possibilities in the Maud Land sector of Antarctica”, said Frank Pattyn, Director of the Laboratoire de Glaciologie of the Université libre de Bruxelles. “We discovered new and important glaciers and we learned a lot on the complex interaction of the ice sheet, ice shelf and the ocean in a changing climate”.

“Princess Elisabeth Antarctica enabled us to sample a variety of rarely studied habitats, which are typically found in inland locations of the Antarctic continent”, said Dr Elie Verleyen, a biologist at Ghent University, and principal investigator of the BELDIVA project, which studies microbial diversity within a 200km radius of the station.  Dr Verleyen has also participated in projects that study possible future ecosystem change. [8].

As the 2013-2014 season comes to a close at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, the International Polar Foundation is now looking ahead towards new collaborations and projects, including with other countries who wish to share the facilities on a more formal basis, and who are inspired by the zero emission goals.

“As for the next five years, we intend strengthening operations at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica by internationalising the station”, said Alain Hubert. “By sharing costs with other nations, we will strengthen our capability for supporting world class science, as well as continuing to develop the station prototype towards further optimized energy performance. Princess Elizabeth Antarctica is an example of the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, and a symbol of how we must encourage more cooperation between countries”.

“The success of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica as a global hub for science and education shows that Belgium is a key player in uniting nations, and combining 21st century skills with leadership by example. This is a message we need to bring to future generations, to give them confidence in their abilities to deal with the challenges our planet faces”, concluded Hubert.

He added “the Princess Elisabeth project is considered by all countries as a unique and success full partnership between public and private sector. A partnership which, beside the support of the Belgian government, could not exist without the continuous technical and financial support of IPF and his partners, bringing to the station’s operations the high ad-value that makes his success”.

The International Polar Foundation is the officially appointed operator of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica station, acting on behalf of the Belgian State. The Foundation supports polar scientific research for the advancement of knowledge, the promotion of informed action on climate change, and the development of a sustainable society.

Photos & Video:

For more information, including access to high resolution images and video, please contact the International Polar Foundation’s press desk in Brussels, Belgium, at or phone +32 2 543 06 98


[1] Princess Elisabeth Antarctica

As an Antarctic legacy project of the 2007-2009 International Polar Year, Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station was designed and built to respect the letter and spirit of the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty. But the project went a step further: Princess Elisabeth is the world’s first Zero Emission polar research station.

Located in East Antarctica’s Sør Rondane Mountains, Princess Elisabeth Antarctica welcomes scientists from around the world to conduct research in this little-studied and pristine environment.

Operated by the International Polar Foundation, in partnership with the Belgian Polar Secretariat, the station is an evolving technical prototype and a strong expression of Belgian ingenuity and innovation. Princess Elisabeth Antarctica’s design and construction seamlessly integrates passive building technologies, renewable wind and solar energy, water treatment facilities, continuously monitored power demand and a smart grid for maximising energy efficiency.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctica was launched at Brussels venue Tour & Taxis in 2007, drawing 40,000 visitors in just four days, before it was shipped to Antarctica for deployment.

The success of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica marks an important development in the philosophy of sustainable development, demonstrating how the climate challenge can be met through goodwill and collaboration between civil society, business and governments. The project proves how readily accessible technology can be harnessed to achieve a low carbon society, without compromising our collective or individual wellbeing.

The energy solutions perfected at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica are already being successfully commercialised by the project’s technical partners for use in mainstream applications.

[2] “Water Sky – The dark appearance of the underside of a cloud layer when it is over a surface of open water.” 

[3] View the full list of science projects at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica

Some of the science projects at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica during the BELARE  2013-2014 season:

  • BE:WISE: Research on buttressing effects on ice shelves (ULB) – Dr Reinhard Drews and Lionel Favier worked on the Antarctic coast, funded by the annual InBev Baillet Latour Antarctic Fellowship in partnership with the IPF.
  • BELATMOS - Ozone, UV radiation and atmospheric composition - Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute (RMI). Dr. Alexander Mangold runs an atmospheric observatory at the PE station instrumentation and will install a new aerosol instrument during this summer season.  In addition, the possibility to do filter sampling for aerosol chemical analysis will be tested.
  • ICECON: Understanding ice dynamics – Dr Nicholas Bergeot from Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB) installed GPS antenna to track motion of glaciers and their contribution to ice mass variation.
  • JARE-55: National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) team from Japan carried out absolute gravimeter readings, as well as a reconnaissance flight over the Belgica Mountains.
  • GIANT-LISSA: Dr Denis Lombardi from Royal Observatory of Belgium set up several surface seismometers, as well as a borehole seismometer to look at micro tremors in the Sor Rondane mountains as well as studying seismic activities further afield.

Full House at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica

“One morning, we received an unexpected incoming radio transmission from scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, asking if they could carry out their survey with the Polar 6 plane from PE… we replied that they were welcome ... they arrived on the 9th. Thanks to the nice weather, they could fly and collect data for their geomagnetism studies over several days.”

[4] The International Polar Foundation

Based in Brussels, Belgium, the International Polar Foundation recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. Created with the objective of providing a novel interface between science and society, the Foundation was created, in 2002, under Royal Statute as a foundation for the public good.

The International Polar Foundation actively supports polar scientific research, as well as championing informed action on climate change, and the development of a sustainable society.

The Foundation seeks to bring about a keener appreciation of the role of science, particularly research in the Polar Regions, through a re-examination of the planet’s interconnections, its fragility, the impact of human actions on the environment, and the evolution of millennial climate cycles.

To achieve its aims, the Foundation has initiated several high-profile projects; this includes supporting polar science through the creation and operation of the wind-and-solar-powered zero emission Princess Elisabeth Antarctica station, logistical support of scientists working in Antarctica, fellowship awards for Antarctic researchers, an annual symposium on Arctic issues, and several science and education websites and classroom activities and resources.

[5] Antarctic Treaty Secretariat: German - South African Joint Inspection Team Report of Inspection under Article VII of the Antarctic Treaty, and Article 14 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection, January 8-29, 2013.

Selected comments:

“The waste water treatment unit at Princess Elisabeth deserves special mention, due to the excellent quality waste water produced, which is recycled once prior to disposal into the environment.”

“The inspection team recommends sharing technical information and operational experience in order to assist other nations to develop advanced replacements if intended. Especially the energy management (smart grid) and the measures to reduce water consumption are noteworthy. Other stations are encouraged to consider adopting these technologies.”

“The comprehensive waste management plan and the oil spill prevention and response strategy that exist for the station are commendable, especially the exemplary waste water treatment and recycling process.”

“The inspection team noted that excellent science is undertaken by internationally staffed expeditions that do field work around PEA. The station’s philosophy that tourism at the station ought to remain small scale, sensible and controlled in order to ensure that it respects the Antarctic environment and provides for wider support of the Antarctic Treaty principles is deemed acceptable.”

[6] Total score from 2012-2013 season evaluations given by individual participating scientists at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica was an 87% approval rating.

[7] The IceCon project aims to gain a better understanding of the rate of the loss of ice – now and in the past - from the Antarctic ice sheet in the Dronning Maud Land area, and includes six partners: Université Libre de Bruxelles, Royal Observatory of Belgium, University of Luxembourg, Norwegian Polar Institute, and Aberystwyth University.

[7] “Within the BelSPO-funded BELDIVA project, we are studying the microbial biodiversity and its response to climate change, in collaboration with scientists from the Universities of Liège and Ghent and the Botanic Garden in Meise. To achieve this, we installed open-top-chambers, which experimentally mimic temperature rise. The microbial communities are being analysed using state-of-the-art sequencing techniques, which will allow us to make a detailed inventory of the microbes thriving in these unique ecosystems.”

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