Concordia Research Station is home to 60 people in summer, only fifteen in winter, when it faces great accumulations of snow and temperatures down to 80°C ( 176°F). The two main buildings are supported by modular pillars that can be raised.
Prevention against all pollution is a major concern at the site, as everywhere in Antarctica. All waste is sorted to be treated elsewhere; water is recycled using prototype systems that are useful in extreme cases of confinement. They are tested here to be developed later for use in space.
The site, which has several telescopes, is becoming a reference for astronomic research. The sky is “very transparent” and there is very little moisture in the air. Analyses concern the history of stars and the state of the atmosphere.
It is also a key site for glaciological studies. Coring down to depths of 3,270 metres leads to obtaining ice cores going back 800,000 years.
Ice is, among other things, a direct indicator of the state of greenhouse gases. Joël Savarino, CNRS research scientist, explains: “···thanks to air bubbles trapped in the ice, it is possible to measure the concentration of these gases. Every warm period sees an increase in greenhouse gases. Today, there is a reversal in situation: in the past, climate affected greenhouse gases. At present, because of human activity, we emit greenhouse gases, thereby affecting climate.”
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On 17 January, the Sovereign Prince went to the Russian Vostok base, west of the South Pole.
Vostok is the continent's most isolated scientific station, where the lowest temperature ever recorded was ¬ 89.2°C ( 192.5°F) on 21 July 1983.
It is above all a place for international cooperation with the regular presence of researchers from France, the US and the UK. Since 1957, ice samples are taken and sent all over the world for analysis. One piece of ice dates back 400,000 years.
Access to the station is through a maze excavated in the snow.
The buildings are now four metres below the level of the ice.
Coring is done using antediluvian boring equipment that functions perfectly.
Once the ice is extracted, it is recorded (extraction date, depth···) and stored in a room excavated even deeper, where the temperature is below 50°C ( 122°F).
The cores are carefully labelled and lined up on wooden shelves. Part of the results of 41 years of work of Vostok is stored here, but many samples are sent out to dozens of laboratories to try to unlock the secrets of evolution. This work has been pursued more intensively since 1996.
Under the station, scientists discovered the presence of a lake 4,000 metres below sea level. Where there is water in liquid form, there may be life. Bacteria have already been identified. Although they are not directly from the lake, this is a beginning.
Then, HSH the Prince visited the Australian Davis base.
On the evening of 18 January, He reached the Belgian Princess Elisabeth base.
This is the first Belgian station to be built in Antarctica for over 40 years (before that, King Baudouin Station was open from 1958 to 1966). This summer station is a zero-emission area occupied four months a year, by 20 scientists at most.
The base is already operational, though it is still under completion. It will be officially inaugurated in February 2009, at the end of the International Polar Year.
On 19 January, HSH the Prince visited the Indian Maitri base.
Today, the Prince set off for the Russian Novolazarevskaya base to go to the Norwegian station Troll.
You can keep track of Prince Albert's expedition every day on www.fpa2.com