In from the cold: new Member States and polar research
In May 2004, an additional ten nations joined the European Union, bringing the total to 25. Although only a handful of these new Member States are currently maintaining or developing polar research programmes, together they contribute to raising awareness of the polar regions within Europe, whilst demonstrating the value and relevance of more targetted and localised data collection and research.
Of the ten new European Union Member States, Poland has the longest-standing polar research tradition. With year-round research stations in Antarctica and Svalbard in the Arctic, as well as an Arctic research vessel, the Polish Academy of Science has a long history of scientific investigation in fields ranging from Polar oceanography to climatology. Its Henryk Arctowsky Station on King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula, was inaugurated in 1977, enabling Poland to join the 12 original consultative members of the Antarctic Treaty. With a maximum summer population of 70 and a winter crew of around 20, research is carried out in association with a wide range of international scientific programmes and organisations such as the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the European Polar Board (EPB).
|The Polish station of Hornsund, in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, has operated since 1957 and can accommodate up to 30 people during summer and 12 during winter.|
© Christian Du Brulle
As a consultative member to the Antarctic treaty, the Czech Republic is another new European Union Member State with a long and distinguished history of polar research, especially in the Antarctic.
Thanks to active cooperation with scientists from across the international polar research community and regular visits by Czech scientists to Russian and U.S. stations, the Czech Republic has been able to acquire the necessary expertise to operate its first Antarctic station on James Clark Ross Island on the north-eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. With construction due to have been completed over the Austral summer of 2004-05, the new high-tech station will accommodate up to fifteen logistical staff and scientists who will implement a multidisciplinary programme of research including geology, hydrology, geomorphology, ecology and physiology.
Among the Baltic States, Estonia stands out for its long history of bi-polar research during the Soviet era and as one of the smaller non-consultative members to the Antarctic treaty. It is also the first Baltic nation to be developing its own polar research programme with the planned construction of a small Antarctic station at Edmonson Point South in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Although this project has been met with some reservations by certain Antarctic Treaty nations who would prefer to limit the number of new stations on the continent, for Estonian scientists it represents an opportunity to study the rich biology of this rare ice-free Antarctic oasis.
Pre-accession countries and external members
|Ukraine’s Vernadsky station, formerly the British station Faraday, is continuing an Antarctic climate record begun in 1947.|
Among the present candidates to the European Union and other external members, Bulgaria and Ukraine should be mentioned for their active polar research programmes and stations in the Antarctic and their membership of the EPB. Following an arrangement with the United Kingdom in 1995, Ukraine has taken over the jurisdiction of Faraday, the British Antarctic Survey’s oldest operational station in Antarctica, and renamed it Vernadsky. Situated on Galindes Island on the Antarctic Peninsula, Vernadsky has continued the climate record started by the British in 1947.
With its summer station, St Kliment Ohridski, on Livingstone Island, the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute has also been carrying out a sustained programme of polar research for over twenty years, gathering and interpreting meteorological, geological and biological data in the South Shetlands.
Small is beautiful
Whether large or small, the polar programmes of new Member States display both the vibrancy and dedication already demonstrated by polar research across the European Union. They also bring to light the importance of smaller polar programmes in acquiring, interpreting and publishing data from parts of the polar regions that might otherwise be overlooked – thus providing scientists across the globe with a much broader picture of the Arctic and Antarctic environments.