L’Astrolabe opens up Antarctica

For French and Australian explorers

Without the help of icebreaking ships, all-terrain vehicles and tough machinery, most Antarctic science could not happen. The French ship L’Astrolabe is a crucial facility for scientists exploring the Earth’s climate, oceans, atmosphere and ecology.

Every year, the ship and its crew, managed by the French Navy for the Institut polaire français Paul-Émile Victor (IPEV) from Hobart, support approximately 50 French and international scientific projects based out of the French stations Dumont d’Urville and Concordia. L’Astrolabe also transports food, supplies, logistics officers and scientists to and from the Australian Antarctic Division’s base on Macquarie Island.

IPEV also supports the high priority Australian-led project Aurora Basin North, which drills down into the ice to collect frozen records of how our planet has evolved and changed to provide information on what might be in store for the future. Scientists are currently working towards the ‘holy grail’ of a million-year-old ice core.

In 2013/14 the French team led the 15-day traverse from Dumont d’Urville to the Aurora site and back, which was a 2,500 km round-trip. As a result of this expedition scientists could, for the first time, look back in time 3,000 years by collecting 400-metre deep ice cores.

According to Dr Jérôme Chappellaz, Director of IPEV, the French-Australian Antarctic cooperation agreement optimises the investments made in research and operations for both countries.

“Working in Antarctica is all about cooperation. France and Australia have a collaborative history that started several decades ago,” Jérôme says.

“Through our spirit and our joint logistic and scientific interests, this relationship will be even stronger in the future. And during the French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Australia in May 2018 he and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reiterated their commitment and desire for continued collaboration.”

Banner image: The icebreaker L’Astrolabe runs the Tasmania-Antarctica route carrying scientists and supplies.Credit: Marine Nationale