Polar campaigns in times of crisis

The organization of the French Polar Institute is directly impacted by the international health situation in the framework of the next campaign implementation in Antarctica and the French sub-Antarctic islands. Its teams are working daily to prepare this very special campaign, taking place from October 2020 to March 2021 for Antarctica and which has already started for the Subantarctic Islands.

The main difficulty lies in the changes in the international context around the pandemic management, sometimes occurring on an hourly basis. No one has visibility on the coming weeks. All alternative deployment plans should be considered.

The plan to date calls for all personnel bound for the Dumont d’Urville and Concordia research stations in Antarctica to depart in October on a charter flight chartered by the French Polar Institute and the Italian National Polar Research, PNRA. This staff of 80 French expeditionaries and about 30 Italians will be used to replace the teams currently wintering, to supply the stations and carry out the necessary infrastructure work during the summer, but also to carry out essential scientific activities such as the acquisition of long time series data (> 10 years).

This joint operation to charter an aircraft, the first of its kind, makes it possible to among other things, a sharing of costs between the two nations. It also illustrates the fruitful and effective collaboration with the Italian teams in Antarctica.

In the specific context of the Antarctic, the flights of aircraft within the continent have drastically decreased. Fortunately in this uncertain period, the Polar Institute can count on the essential support of the supply ship throughout the logistics season. The Astrolabe operated jointly with the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF) as well as on the responsiveness and adaptability of the French Navy, which is arming the ship.

This very special and unprecedented crisis management underscores, if need be, the excellent collaborations that the French Polar Institute maintains with its partners in Antarctica. This is particularly illustrated with Australia, which, despite its strict health security policy, is responding to the Polar Institute’s requests to deploy science in Antarctica, given that French logistics go through the city of Hobart in Tasmania.

In the sub-Antarctic islands, the second logistical rotation of the calendar year for the vessel Marion Dufresne , which supplies these French territories in the Indian Ocean and transports logisticians and scientists, left Kerguelen Island on the morning of September 9, with the Institute’s personnel on board. Before its departure, the vessel had to undergo a quarantine on Reunion Island in strict compliance with the COVID health protocol established by the TAAF.
For the expeditionaries departing on the third logistic rotation of the vessel, they will begin a quarantine on Reunion Island in mid-October following this same protocol, for a departure to the sub-Antarctic islands expected in early November.

The primary mission of all the teams of the French Polar Institute is, in these very special times, to ensure the health protection of all personnel leaving and returning from the polar and sub-polar terrains. Both the Antarctic continent and the French sub-Antarctic islands belong to the last territories on the planet where the coronavirus has not been introduced. The Institute is taking up the colossal challenge that it is still the true at the end of its logistical and scientific missions of the 2020/2021 campaigns.