CONCORDIA station is located on the Antarctic continental plateau (75°06’S – 123°21’E), 1100km away from the French base Dumont d’Urville and 1200km from the Italian Terra Nova Bay Station.
The French Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research has certified Concordia station as a TGIR (Very Large Research Infrastructure). In the austral summer (November to mid-February), about 50 research personnel, including 25 French scientists, benefit from this infrastructure for their work; in winter (mid-February to October): 4-7 researchers or technicians take charge of the scientific experiments. However, these figures do not reflect the large number of researchers, engineers and technicians working in Metropolitan France for programmes being run at Concordia.
This station is the only permanent European station established in the interior of Antarctica’s 14 million km² surface area. Thirty-seven of the 40 permanent scientific stations installed in the Antarctic are on the coastal fringe. The other two permanent continental stations, Amundsen-Scott (USA) and Vostok (Russia) do not enjoy the same geographical, environmental and logistical situations. The Dome C site where Concordia is located was chosen because it is unique in meeting a combination of scientific criteria:
- the ice cap thickness gives the possibility to access the Earth’s climate archives and reconstruct the interglacial cycles over an 800 000 year period.
- high altitude and particularly stable, pure and dry atmosphere, ideal for astronomy observations and studies on the chemical composition of the lower and upper layers of the atmosphere;
- the station’s position under the path of most of the satellites tracing a polar orbit, in contrast to the American Amundsen-Scott (South Pole) Station. That is a great advantage which optimizes remote sensing capabilities for surface and atmospheric monitoring;
- positioning under the polar vortex which allows studies of ozone layer fluctuations above the Antarctic at as close a range as possible;
- location far from disturbances encountered on the coast, favourable for the observatories in magnetism and seismology, thus tightening the very loose cover the existing global data network has over the Southern Hemisphere.
- No other Antarctic site currently holds such strong advantages. Concordia’s vocation is therefore to offer the international scientific community access to the high Antarctic plateau, one of Earth’s most remote and inhospitable regions, and thus help accomplish permanent research programmes and make unparalleled observations in a range of fields. Further, the European Space Agency (ESA) is helping to support scientific programmes in medicine and human behaviour in confined situations and environments. The agency is also working with IPEV on technological aspects of developing a prototype waste water treatment plant at the station.
Description, scientific and technological objectives : Concordia consists of: the station itself and the polar land tracks for transporting supplies from the Cap Prudhomme annex coastal base, next to Dumont d’Urville in Adelie Land. The station can host 16 personnel for overwintering and, thanks to annex facilities, around 60 persons in summer.
Glaciology and palaeoclimatology: The accumulated ice down to 3200m has been investigated in the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica EPICA (10 countries involved). This has produced a reconstruction of the climate history over the past 800 000 years and hence it plays a major role in the IPCC’s ongoing work on climate changes at the scale of our Planet. Several small subglacial lakes occur in this sector. These too offer an interesting avenue for research. They could contribute to developing new technology which might help make further advances in research on these extreme environments. Further, investigations are being made near Concordia station to locate a favourable site for ice coring that could yield climate data for the past 1½ million years.
Chemistry and Physics of the Atmosphere: Similarly, the extreme isolation of the site and its position under the polar vortex give it a unique advantage for research on the atmosphere, changes in the ozone layer and general circulation of pollutants and aerosols.
Astronomy: The investigations conducted at Concordia on the quality of the site show the Dome C location to be particularly favourable for astronomy observations owing to its exceptional geographical position (near the pole and at high altitude) and its atmosphere: extremely dry, cold, rarified and highly stable. It appears to be the most appropriate terrestrial site for operating certain types of telescope, much better than existing sites (Chile for example) and above all much less costly than spatial telescopes.
Earth Observatory: Considering the almost complete absence of stations in the interior of the Antarctic continent, Concordia stands as an important node in the Earth Observatory Grid, particularly sparse in this region of the world, for many fields, including meteorology (taken charge of by the Italian operator), seismology, geomagnetism and atmospheric chemistry.
Engineering and Medicine: The Dome C site is extremely remote with very harsh climate. A prime place for assessing the technology and procedures for future work on other planets and test the adaptation of small groups of individuals living and working in conditions similar to those prevailing in space craft or space stations.
Technology: Environmental constraints demand the development of innovative technology and processes for the facilities of the station itself and for the land convoys, in order to improve their effectiveness and performance.