J ean-Louis Etienne dreamed of it, scientists and private donors did it. The Polar Pod will see the light of day.
The project is the culmination of ten years of research aimed at developing an unprecedented scientific expedition to Antarctica. It all started with the crazy idea of an explorer doctor, author of a previous feat by having reached the North Pole alone in 1986. Accustomed to expeditions in these harsh regions of the globe that he particularly likes, Jean Louis Etienne wants to go , today, more before.
Developed and funded by a collective made up of scientists such as Ifremer, CNRS, Cnes, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Scripps [Scripps institution of oceanography) as well as private contributors such as EDF, the Total foundation , Spie Batignolles or Macif to name a few, the project is now a reality. Jean-Louis Etienne and 7 other people are preparing for an extraordinary trip. In all, no less than 52 institutions and 12 countries will have taken part in this expedition, which should provide valuable scientific data over the next three years of the expedition.
The challenges are huge. Indeed, how to stay in a geographical area for so long without interfering with a fragile local ecosystem and at the same time, withstand extremely difficult climatic conditions? Sailors of all times have dreaded this place called the Roaring 40th, Howling 50th and Breaking 60th . They bear the numbers of the parallels which delimit them, in the southern hemisphere. These are winds that can be found in the Southern Ocean, closest to Antarctica. Coming from the west, these winds have less mass to slow them down. Indeed, past a certain area, land is scarce. The temperature difference between the water and the ice of Antarctica creates a movement of air, which creates strong depressions.
The Polar Pod is therefore a sum of technical prowess, a meticulous work of pooling the knowledge of teams of scientists, architects and naval engineers. This ship that looks straight out of the Martian Chronicles is in fact composed of a large central mast 100 meters in length, a ballast of 150 tons 80 meters below the surface ensuring stability even in strong swells, a cabin of three floors at 10 meters above the water capable of accommodating the crew and sails to allow the drift structure on the Antarctic circumpolar current to avoid potential icebergs. Completely autonomous, it emits no carbon emissions.
In fact, this curious vertical boat, built in a specific steel, is inspired by an American oceanographic vessel, the FLIP (Floating instrument platform) belonging to the Office of Naval Research, launched in June 1962 and used by the physics laboratory. marine from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
Polar Pod's mission will be to study the environment in the Southern Ocean looking for signs of various pollution. It will also be an opportunity to observe as closely as possible the various ecosystems which are the subject of very little research. So far from civilizations, does this region of the world bear the scars of human activity? All the biological and chemical axes will be exploited. This ocean plays an essential role in regulating the climate. As a scientist from the mission emphasizes: “the Southern Ocean has many particularities that make it a field of study and research of major interest. It is indeed the only ocean whose waters circle the globe without encountering a landmass. It is the site of intense exchanges with the atmosphere which generate specific physical , chemical and biological phenomena, at different spatial and temporal scales. It massively exports nutrients to other latitudes , it impacts the ecosystems of the global ocean, which makes it a land rich in marine biodiversity that is still largely unknown. "
The Polar Pod will complement existing observation means such as satellites, float-profilers or even marine animals on which sensors have been placed, but the information it will deliver will be much more informative. .
What if for a moment, Ray Bradbury and Jean Louis Etienne came together in the same quest, the same desire to awaken consciousness, through writing or through science, the same determination to condemn the disappearance of the living? ? The Southern Ocean or Mars, after all what difference? It's just a matter of time, isn't it?
Tireless and admirable explorer, Jean-Louis Etienne is in love with the Earth and with life in all its forms. Let us wish his expedition as many major scientific advances as possible.
Good winds Monsieur Etienne and thank you for everything.