For a long time, polar research was treated in a Cinderella-like way, despite outstanding and internationally renowned scientists like climatologist Professor Thomas Stocker and head of the WSL Professor Konrad Steffen. But now, Switzerland has its own polar institute, officially presented at press conference in Berne. Initiated by polar explorer und businessman Frederik Paulsen, the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) was presented to the public. At the same time, the initiates also presented the first project of the SPI: a 3-month scientific expedition around the entire Southern Ocean to assess the impact of climate change and the pollution of the Southern Ocean.

The new Swiss Polar Institute evoked a large media response. At the press conference, Professor Thomas Stocker (UB, far left), polar explorer and entrepreneur Frederik Paulsen (2.f.l.), Professor Philippe Gillet (EPFL, 2.f.r.) and state secretary Mauro Dell’Ambrigio (far right) presented themselves to the media. Picture: Heiner Kubny
The new Swiss Polar Institute evoked a large media response. At the press conference, Professor Thomas Stocker (UB, far left), polar explorer and entrepreneur Frederik Paulsen (2.f.l.), Professor Philippe Gillet (EPFL, 2.f.r.) and state secretary Mauro Dell’Ambrigio (far right) presented themselves to the media. Picture: Heiner Kubny

The Polar Regions have a global significance, both geopolitically as well as scientifically. On the one hand, the amount of natural resources is an irresistible lure for numerous nations to invest more into these cold regions. On the other hand, however, these areas are the most affected by climate change and its impact will be felt on a global scale. Thus, an increasing number of states have started to strengthen its research efforts in both Arctic and Antarctic and even states like Singapore, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran have opened polar research institutions. In Switzerland, on the other side, project on polar topics were restricted to individual groups. These groups elaborated an excellent reputation among the international scientific community over the last few decades. Still, a centralized coordination was missing, for both financial and organizational reasons (head, place, etc.). At least until Monday, April 18th.

Professor Thomas Stocker (left) tells Frederik Paulsen (right): „With the SPI, we will be on a par with the big polar players.” Picture: Heiner Kubny
Professor Thomas Stocker (left) tells Frederik Paulsen (right): „With the SPI, we will be on a par with the big polar players.” Picture: Heiner Kubny

Under the aegis of Frederik Paulsen, businessman and profound polar explorer, the Swiss Polar Institute SPI was founded as a consortium of several scientific institutions. The institute consists of the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL), the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Federal Polytechnic Institute of Zurich (ETHZ) and the University of Berne (UB). All these institutions have internationally renowned and interconnected polar research groups in various scientific fields. Frederik Paulsen says: “The Swiss Polar Institute will help drive research in extreme environments, contribute to progress in the field of polar science and promote cooperation among public and academic institutions, industry and private-sector partners.” He is the chairman of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a Swiss-based pharma company and renowned polar explorer. He was the first to reach all eight poles and he also financed and accompanied two expeditions to the sea floor at the North Pole with Russian submarines. Just two days before the press conference, Ferderik Paulsen had been standing at the North Pole himself once more. He had initiated the SPI because he deemed the time to be right for Switzerland to become a prominent polar player. With his initiative, he found allies in Professor Thomas Stocker (UB) and Professor Konrad Steffen (WSL). Professor Stocker, an internationally renowned climatologist himself, welcomed the initiative and says: “With the SPI, we will be on a par with the big polar players.” The federal support is given by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SBFI). The State Secretary, Mauro Dell’Ambrigio, says:” The Swiss Polar Institute is a great example of intelligent cooperation. Swiss universities owe their competitiveness to a shrewd approach of competing and cooperating with each other at the same time.”

The question, how the whole institution will be financed, answered Frederik Paulsen: “There always is money for good projects. Switzerland has good projects, thus there always will be money somewhere.” Picture: Heiner Kubny
The question, how the whole institution will be financed, answered Frederik Paulsen: “There always is money for good projects. Switzerland has good projects, thus there always will be money somewhere.” Picture: Heiner Kubny

The SPI will be financed for the next ten years by Paulsen via his Editions Paulsen as well as the other institutions. As a first large-scale project, the SPI will undertake a scientific expedition around the Southern Ocean. On board of the Russian icebreaker Akademik Treshnikov, an international team of 50 scientists will conduct 22 projects during the 3 months around the continent. The individual research areas are oceanography, biology, climatology, and glaciology. The research work will be conducted from the depths of the Southern Ocean to the atmosphere above Antarctica. The goal of the expedition is to assess the impact of climate change on the various systems and the pollution of the Southern Ocean. Professor Jean Jouzel, member of the ACE Panel of scientists, explains: “The ACE initiative is a unique opportunity. Bringing together all these projects and diverse fields of study in an expedition around Antarctica, where they will collect a huge amount of scientific data, will teach us about the past and help us predict the future of the Southern Ocean.” Among the research groups, a number of Swiss teams will also conduct their scientific work. Members from the ETHZ, the Paul-Scherrer-Institute, the EPFL, and the University of Geneva will participate. The expedition will start in Cape Town on December 20 and in three legs via Hobart and Punta Arenas will end again in Cape Town on March 18, 2017. The team of PolarNEWS will give a regular update on the progress of the expedition.

The first large-scale project of the SPI will be the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), a 3-month scientific expedition cruise around Antarctica. On board will be a a team of 50 scientists from 30 countries. Map: SPI
The first large-scale project of the SPI will be the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), a 3-month scientific expedition cruise around Antarctica. On board will be a a team of 50 scientists from 30 countries. Map: SPI

Source: Swiss Polar Institute