The Belgian Antarctic station Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is one of the latest and most advanced stations. During summer season up to 16 researchers can be housed at the station, which is situated in Queen Maud Land, East Antarctica. The station is a summer station and thus, closed for the winter and maintained automatically from Belgium thanks to a sophisticated control system. Now, the station has been manned and reopened for the season.

The Belgian station was officially opened in 2009 and originally private owned. However, the International Polar Foundation and the Belgian government had disputed over the control of the station and finally resolved it this year. Credit: International Polar Foundation
The Belgian station was officially opened in 2009 and originally private owned. However, the International Polar Foundation and the Belgian government had disputed over the control of the station and finally resolved it this year. Credit: International Polar Foundation

Alain Hubert and his crew have been preparing the station for the first group of scientists who have just arrived at the station, glaciologists and specialists in atmospheric sciences, some heading for the Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf. ​The Princess had been sleeping over winter, but everything was ticking-over and on-line, purring along on the energy harvested from the wind and the sun. Mission one is snow clearance. The barricades erected by the wind around the Princess are removed. After a very long dark cold winter in Antarctica, the snow has accumulated and the entrance has to be cut free to allow the garage to be opened and snow tractors to come out and start the spring cleaning. The crew will clear the hard packed ice and snow using Prinoth and Komatsu vehicles stored at the station during the winter months. The expedition this year is truly international and nearly a dozen countries are represented, some for the very first time.

The station is the only zero-emission station in Antarctica and runs entirely on solar and wind energy. Its base is anchored deep into the permafrost and the skeleton construction is made of wood. Credit: International Polar Foundation
The station is the only zero-emission station in Antarctica and runs entirely on solar and wind energy. Its base is anchored deep into the permafrost and the skeleton construction is made of wood. Credit: International Polar Foundation

Over the 2017-2018 summer season, 24 scientists will be heading to Princess Elisabeth at different times to carry out research in and around the station. When they arrive in Cape Town, they must patiently await perfect weather conditions before making the long 6 hour journey over the Southern Ocean by Ilyushin 76 to land at the Russian air base Novolazarevskaya. They will then take a smaller plane (DC3 or Twin Otter) to reach Princess Elisabeth, nearly 200 km inland. Even before they arrive, the science has already begun, as some instruments are active throughout the winter. Others are re-awakened and some are repaired. The upcoming season is a full one, with 15 Belgian and international scientific projects planned across a range of disciplines. Dr. Henri Roberts from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences will carry out the first ever bird population assessment in the region, while Canadian scientist, Dr. Lori Ziolkowski is returning to the station to continue her research on microbial activity in Eastern Antarctica. This year there will be six Canadians at the Station, including two team members, two scientists and two technical consultants. We will also be welcoming scientists from Taiwan and Turkey for the first time. This year will also see the deployment of the 8th AWS (automatic weather station built by the University of Wisconsin) and it is our intention to provide all the data from the station on-line, in the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty.

Princess Elisabeth Antarctica station is situated in Queen Maud Land, opposite of South Africa. It can be reached with flights from Cape Town to the Russian station Novolazarevskaja and onwards. Credit: International Polar Foundation.
Princess Elisabeth Antarctica station is situated in Queen Maud Land, opposite of South Africa. It can be reached with flights from Cape Town to the Russian station Novolazarevskaja and onwards. Credit: International Polar Foundation.

Source: International Polar Foundation