Support for science

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The research programmes supported by the Institute concern the Life Sciences, Earth and Planetary sciences and Human and Social sciences. The broad fields studied are astronomy, astrophysics, geophysics, geology, atmospheric sciences, ice caps, climate, oceanography, life and the environment and humanity and societies.

The French Polar Institute supports and implements research programmes in polar regions, following assessment by its Council for Polar Science and Technology Programmes (CPST).
Proposals are selected according to their scientific interest and feasibility in the field. Programmes are usually devised to run over multi-year periods (maximum of 4 years renewable annually). A call for project proposals is issued through the scientific community before summer of the year preceding the field campaigns.

The French polar Institute  only supports scientific projects originating from French public research organizations. The project leader must hold a permanent post in one of these organizations. Projects submitted by students undertaking theses or post-docs, emeritus researchers or teaching professors are not eligible.

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of projects implemented and supported by the polar institute rose from 42 to 77 (+ 88%). The Figure illustrates this trend which stems from The French polar Institute’s intention to open access to French polar stations to a greater number of projects while watching and adjusting the balance between the sites utilized.

Trends in the number of The French polar Institute-supported projects (red) and the number of campaigns accomplished in the Arctic, Subantarctic and Antarctic from 2002 to 2012GrapheProgrammesScientifiquesIPEV2002-2012In 2012 and during the summer campaign 2012-2013, 56 projects were run in the Antarctic and Subantarctic and 21 in the Arctic, 18 in life sciences and the environment, 46 in the earth and planetary sciences, 8 in the humanities and social sciences, and 5 in human biology-psychology. The main topics concern:

  • glaciology
  • atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, particularly ozone chemistry
  • geophysics, geodynamics and geology
  • astronomy
  • distribution of fauna, flora and the changes in biodiversity
  • survival strategies and adaptation of species to extreme conditions
  • living organisms’ response to climate change and human activities
  • human biology and adaptation to overwintering conditions

Among these overall themes, certain major advances could not have been obtained over the past few years without the French polar Institute’s support and know-how. Some examples are:

  • The European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) at Dome C, which has helped reconstitute the climate over the past 800 000 years, and whose results play a prime role in the work of the IPCC;
  • The European Project on Ocean Acidification in the Arctic (EPOCA), which was able to use the AWIPEV station facilities at Svalbard;
  • The VANISH (Vulnerability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet) and EXPLORE projects, co-financed by French research agency ANR, which achieved the first trek between Concordia and Vostok to conduct glaciological studies and look for a potential coring site suitable for obtaining ice samples dating back more than 1 million years;
  • The projects on marine birds and mammals set up in the French subantarctic islands and Adelie Land which have developed miniaturized geolocation systems for animals and recording devices for parameters of their environment. Through this work the French scientific community has become leader of these micro-technologies and the projects have led to better understanding of the activity of animals which, until recently, appeared just to disappear into the sea for a large part of the year;
  • In the same way, research on invasive species in the subantarctic islands (mammals, plants, invertebrates) generated some high quality publications which bring French research scientists to the cutting edge of these questions, widely discussed in the context of the Antarctic Treaty and, more generally, regarding trends in the biodiversity under the effect of climate change and human activities.

 Moreover, one of the main features of the South polar regions is the scattered locations of research stations, as much in the Southern Ocean as on the Antarctic continent. The presence of only 3 stations in the interior of 14 million km² that cover this continent, representing about twice the surface area of Australia or 27 times that of France, is a perfect example. Implantation and maintenance of permanent observatories on these sites as links in the global network are vital for improving knowledge of the Earth’s overall system (climate parameters, monitoring ice formations or biodiversity, geomagnetism, sea level and so on). Such information can help in the surveillance of certain catastrophic events (earthquakes, tsunamis). and feed into environmental change models, especially for climate change. France has therefore doted each of these stations with observatories for meteorology (with Météo-France), seismology, glaciology, atmospheric chemistry, monitoring of animal and plant populations and so on. polar institute was thus sustaining and operating 19 observatory projects in 2012, making up around 50% of the science budget; only 4 certified observation projects were supported in 2002. This spectacular surge demonstrates the high priority the Institute gives such research over the long term. Which puts the French polar scientific community in an exceptional position at the global scale.

Oceanography projects aboard the Marion Dufresne are examined in the framework of national procedures governing applications for ocean-going resources and facilities.

 Such projects mainly concern: the geodynamics of the oceanic crust, study of past climates using marine sediment analysis; the physics and biogeochemistry of the oceans; ocean-atmosphere interactions.

A dozen oceanographic campaigns are run each year on board the Marion Dufresne .

The Marion-Dufresne with its Calypso corer for sediment sampling, developed through the know-how of the polar institute teams, is world leader in this field. The system has opened the way for accomplishing a whole range of oceanographic campaigns which, coupled with glaciological studies, have helped improve knowledge on palaeoclimates.