There is ISS in space that will be Tara Polar Station in the Arctic

An icy desert, temperatures dropping very low below 0 ° C, a sun below the horizon half the year. With then, for light only, the Moon shining in the sky. “And in the summer, it’s the opposite,” continues Chris Bowler, research director at CNRS and chair of the scientific committee of the Tara Océan Foundation. It is the brightest place on the planet, with more photons received per day than anywhere else. »

There is no doubt that the Arctic is hostile to us humans. But the biologist urges us not to be mistaken: “It is also a marine oasis, with species specially adapted to these very special conditions,” he insists. Not only polar bears, seals, whales … But also microscopic planktonic organisms at the bottom of all life in the Arctic. »

A laboratory boat like a spaceship

Will this unique ecosystem disappear? This is one of the questions that underlies the new expedition that is being prepared by the Tara Ocean Foundation. As since 2003, garden expeditions have multiplied to understand the impact of climate change and human activities on these environments. She had already sailed to the North Pole between 2007 and 2008. It was with her scientific schooner Tarafor a crossing of the sea ice, which among its main purposes had to gauge the depths to feed the climate prediction models of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Go towards this extreme again with a much more ambitious expedition scheduled to launch in the summer of 2025 … and last for twenty years. This time, Tara will not be a part of it. Instead, over the past five years, the foundation has envisioned the Tara Polar Station, which was almost comparable to the International Space Station (ISS) in space. “It’s both a boat, a scientific base, a hospital, an artist’s residence, a place to live …, tries to describe Romain Troublé, CEO of the Tara Ocean Foundation. It will be 26 m long and 14 m wide, which all provides 400 m² of living space on four levels. “There will be an engine room, laboratories, workrooms, others for collective life, a hospital directly connected to Chamonix hospital * …” Twenty people will live on board in the summer, a number reduced to 12 in the winter, most trying season, “giving everyone the opportunity to have their own cabin,” explains Romain Troublé.

Tara Polar Station is oval in shape and will be 26 m long, 14 m wide and 400 m habitable.
Tara Polar Station is oval in shape and will be 26 m long, 14 m wide and 400 m habitable. – @Tara Ocean Foundation

“Multiply the 500-day shifts in this Arctic Ocean”

Researchers will make up most of the crew, but there will also be sailors, engineers, a chef or journalists and artists in the residence from time to time. It all forms “like a small village at the North Pole”, describes Romain Troublé. Small village that will have to be redirected in total autonomy and “limit our impact on the environment as much as possible”. Everything is designed to meet these two requirements. Up to the amazing shape of this base, oval. “The most suitable for aiming for maximum energy efficiency, a fundamental question for the missions we intend to carry out,” explains the sailor and biologist. Tara Polar Station is also designed to withstand temperatures of -52 ° C. It will also be able to carry ten tonnes of food, will have its desalination station – to produce up to 1,000 liters of drinking water a day – and its central heat will be supplied by recovering the calories from the generators and supplementing it with a boiler biofuel.

This is the strength of Tara Polar Station: being able to multiply the shifts in 500 days in this sea of ​​ice. “Today, scientific expeditions to the Arctic take place between July and September, and the icebreakers that bring scientists never stop for very long in one place,” compares Romain Troublé. But doing biology takes a long time. »

Chris Bowler and Gerhard Krinner, CNRS climatologist and co-author of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, have high hopes for the new knowledge such a laboratory would provide. Undoubtedly, in any case, the other explains: it is actually in the Arctic that one must be to understand and measure the current and future climatic influences. “The Arctic is a watchdog for climate change,” he explains. As predicted by scientists 50 years ago, it is in this region that the effects of global warming – already + 1.1 ° C since the pre-industrial era – are most noticeable. And the ensuing is hardly encouraging. Maps of climate change, which track levels of greenhouse gas emissions, streak the entire region in dark red. From the most optimistic (+ 2 ° C by 2100) to the most pessimistic (+ 4 ° C) hypothesis.

“The Arctic as a watchdog for climate change”

The first visible sign has been the decline in the observed distribution of Arctic ice in summer. “For the next twenty years, we will be moving from an ocean that is still largely frozen today in the summer, to an increasingly free sea, creating a new ecosystem that we do not know,” Gerhard Kinner continues. If the Arctic Ocean is on the front line, the surrounding regions also have everything to fear from this forced warming. From Greenland, this huge ice sheet, to Siberia and Alaska. “There is pergisol in these continental regions, soil frozen all year round, which contains a lot of organic matter, illustrates for example the climatologist. If the climate changes in the Arctic, the pergisol thaws and organic matter decomposes, adding additional greenhouse gas emissions. »

It is this nerve center in the climate system that the Tara Polar Station Foundation intends to explore on an ongoing basis. Three years after the first departure, it is still too early to know the first research programs in detail. But Chris Bowler, co-director of this mission, already has big directions in mind. “Before it is too late, it will already be a matter of characterizing the marine biodiversity of the Arctic Ocean and understanding how it has adapted to such a hostile environment,” he begins. This presence throughout the year will also allow us to gather data that we lack to understand the Arctic climate, to follow the seasonal successions, to refer to the changes from one year to the next. »

A station not yet built

Chris Bowler continues the list of promises from this Tara Polar Station for a long time. The first step, however, will be to build it. This should start before the end of the year, Romain Troublé clarifies. The location of the construction site is not yet known. “But it will be in Europe,” says the director of the Tara Ocean Foundation. And it was to last eighteen months. »

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