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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special issue - May 2005   
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Title  New European initiatives

The European Union, via the Commission and its Research Directorate-General, has just approved funding for two new scientific research projects in the polar regions, one in the Antarctic and the other in the Arctic. These are the most recent phase in the EPICA programme, "Epica-MIS" in the Antarctic, and a new coordination programme in the Arctic, being carried out in close collaboration with the next International Polar Year, the "IPY-Care" project.

Researchers at the Dome Concordia drilling site carefully remove an ice core.
Researchers at the Dome Concordia drilling site carefully remove an ice core.
© BAS
EPICA-MIS
The European Project for Ice Coring in the Antarctic (EPICA) has been a huge success. At the Dome Concordia (Dome C) drilling site, researchers have extracted ice cores whose deepest samples go back 900,000 years. The recently launched new phase of the Epica programme is being coordinated by Dominique Raynaud (LGGE-Grenoble) and will consist of drilling at another site (the Kohnen station in Dronning Maud Land, or DML) and also studying the ice cores already extracted from the two drilling sites (Dome C and DML).

"We need to complete the two drilling programmes," explains Dominique Raynaud, "because they are complementary. At Dome Concordia, the ice is older than at Kohnen, but comparison of the data from samples collected at both sites will ultimately provide us with a clearer picture. The new phase will therefore allow us to interpret our results in greater detail."

Oceans also under scrutiny
But this new phase also includes a section on oceanography, as indicated by the suffix ‘MIS’ (Marine Isotopic Stages). "With the help of oceanographers, we will be comparing data from our ice cores with those obtained from cores drilled in the sedimentary layers of the ocean floor. This comparison of data from oceanographic climate archives with our atmospheric ice archives will be extremely informative. Our aim is to determine whether the link between greenhouse gases and temperature was equally as strong more than 400,000 years ago, as has been established by ice cores from the Vostok research station. We want to find out how stable the Antarctic has been over the past half a million years, and to better assess the impact of orbital forcing (the evolution of insolation following changes to astronomic conditions) on climate change."

This desire for cross-disciplinary work is in line with European Commission plans for the new phase of the EPICA programme. "We feel it is indeed essential to combine the information obtained using these two research techniques so as to achieve major advances in our paleoclimatic knowledge," confirms Hans Brelen, the scientific manager at the European Commission. "It was with this in mind that the new phase of EPICA was approved."

One IPY-Care priority is to study further how climate change affects marine vegetation such as this massive phytoplankton concentration off the north-west coast of Iceland. Picture from Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS).
One IPY-Care priority is to study further how climate change affects marine vegetation such as this massive phytoplankton concentration off the north-west coast of Iceland. Picture from Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS).
© ESA
IPY-Care
The next International Polar Year in 2007-2008 (IPY) is already the focus of much attention. This is also the case for the Arctic and the rapid changes that are taking place there as a result of global warming, as recently demonstrated by the ‘Arctic Climate Impact Assessment’ (ACIA). It was for this purpose that the IPY-Care (International Polar Year - Climate of the Arctic and its Role for Europe) project was launched with the support of the European Union.

"The aim is to coordinate, integrate and strengthen European research programmes on the Arctic climate and its evolution," explains Ola M. Johannessen, from the Norwegian Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre (NERSC), which is coordinating the project.

Over the past thirty years, warming of our planet has affected the Arctic more than other regions. Its ice cover has markedly shrunk, and it is estimated that between now and the end of this century, this vast polar ocean will become wholly navigable during the summer. Of course, this has certain economic advantages. But it will also trigger a series of deleterious effects on the environment and on populations in both northern regions and in Europe, which will reverberate southwards to the Mediterranean basin.

Six main research themes
So as to better assess the importance of these changes, the IPY-Care programme is drawing up a coordinated plan for polar research, which will be based on six clearly-defined themes: study of the processes which determine climate variability in the Arctic; the evolution of marine biological processes as a reaction to these changes; links between sea water, ice and the atmosphere; study of the variability of paleoclimates; teledetection and the use of new technologies for climate data collection; and finally, evaluation of the impact of these changes on the European climate and the socio-economic consequences.

The consortium of 19 scientific institutions from 13 countries (including Russia), which are partners in this programme, will be organising conferences and meetings to prepare and coordinate the research projects (subsequent meetings and symposia will, in the long term, aim to disseminate the new knowledge thus acquired), and supervise the ‘operational’ phases which will take place during the International Polar Year (mobilisation of European polar research ships, associated Russian stations, planes, etc., with a view to joint actions with other partners such as Canada, Japan and the United States).


Printable version

Features graphic element
graphic element 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
  More of Europe at high latitudes
  The European Polar Board
  The Aurora Borealis: proposal for an advanced European icebreaker
  Poles of excellence: Europe's leading institutes and organisations
  High latitude real-estate: European polar stations
  Polar armada: Europe’s polar research vessels
  European technologies for and from polar research
  Cold comfort: living and working in Antarctica
  European research priorities in polar regions
  New European initiatives
  A compendium of European research on land and under the sea
  In from the cold: new Member States and polar research

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  A new start for Dome C?

In Europe, 2005 will also be marked by a series of new proposals for polar research. 

"A lot of projects are in gestation, or rather I should say are the subject of intense cogitation and discussion on all sides," says Dominique Raynaud, (LGGE-Grenoble). "For example, it has been suggested ...
 

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    Features graphic element
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      A new start for Dome C?

    In Europe, 2005 will also be marked by a series of new proposals for polar research. 

    "A lot of projects are in gestation, or rather I should say are the subject of intense cogitation and discussion on all sides," says Dominique Raynaud, (LGGE-Grenoble). "For example, it has been suggested that the Concordia station, which is one of the two drilling sites for the EPICA project, could be developed into a multidisciplinary research station, with a more European or even international remit (until now, Dome C has been run jointly by France and Italy). It would then be possible to carry out research on surface ice, perform radiosonde observations, or even conduct new drilling to study the composition of sub-glacial lakes, of which there are several in the region around Concordia. They are less extensive than the famous Vostok Lake, but are nonetheless of considerable interest.

    Finally, it may also be possible to initiate a new deep drilling project to discover even more ancient ice, which would provide information on the history of our planet more than a million years ago. This would require preliminary international prospecting campaigns at several sites on the Antarctic continent.

    Apart from Dome C, another research theme may focus on a series of ice samples at higher levels, around the edges of the Antarctic continent. These cores, going back in time between 1,000 and 10,000 years, would help us understand natural climatic changes, and to clarify the atmospheric circulation around the Antarctic since the end of the last Ice Age.

    Finally, studies on the past and present stability of the ice cap would provide valuable data with which to model its future. This is of course of major interest to mankind as a whole."

    France and Italy are working together to construct a new research station: the Concordia.
    France and Italy are working together to construct a new research station: the Concordia.
    © IPEV

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