France in Antarctica

This section provides information about French actors in Antarctica.

Here, you will find a presentation of the main French institutions involved in Antarctica :

  • The French Polar Institute « L’Institut polaire français Paul-Emile Victor »
  • France's national scientific research centre « Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique »
  • The TAAF « Terres australes et antarctiques françaises ».

France is one of the pioneering nations in the Antarctic.

From the 18th century onwards, French navigators and explorers took part in epic voyages of discovery in the southern seas and Antarctica.

Today French scientists continue this longstanding tradition that has made France an active polar nation, not only on a scientific level – French scientists are permanently based on the great white continent conducting scientific research – but also on a political and diplomatic level, through France’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding the principles of the Antarctic Treaty and strengthening the protection of Antarctica’s environment and ecosystems.

The following are some of France’s key stakeholders in Antarctica:

The French Polar Institute

The French Polar Institute, or Institut Polaire Français Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV), plays a central role in France’s activities in the Antarctic.
 
It is the IPEV’s responsibility, as an agency providing resources and expertise, to select, coordinate, support and implement France’s scientific projects in Antarctica, very often in partnership with scientific teams from other countries. The IPEV also organizes and leads French scientific expeditions and oversees the operations of France’s Antarctic stations:  

  • The French Dumont d’Urville Station (25 to 35 people in winter and up to 100 in summer) 
  • The French-Italian Concordia Station (13 to 15 people in winter and 50 to 70 in summer)

The IPEV handles the logistics necessary for their activities (including coordinating the polar activity of the ice-breaker patrol vessel, Astrolabe) and, given Antarctica’s particularly harsh and challenging environment, needs to be prepared for any difficulties and unexpected incidents.

Representing France at the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), the IPEV maintains close ties with its counterpart institutions in partner nations, with the aim, as set forth in the Antarctic Treaty, of promoting international scientific cooperation and research in Antarctica, as well as unfettered access to the results of this research (Articles II and III of the Treaty).

France’s National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS)

Several CNRS research institutes are present in the Antarctic, thus covering the entire range of ongoing scientific programmes.

The physical sciences are obviously well represented, notably through teams from the Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics Laboratory (LGGE) who are based at the French-Italian station, Concordia, studying the ice that has composed the continent’s polar cap for millennia to obtain the data needed to reconstruct several hundred thousand years of climate history. Glaciologists also observe the dynamics of the continent’s glaciers, including melt rate, discharge of fresh water into the sea and the effects of these phenomena on the movements of Antarctica’s adjoining bodies of water.

The Southern Ocean and its sea ice are also of great interest to oceanographers because this icy ocean, far from being isolated, is connected to the planet’s other ocean basins and helps regulate the world’s climate. This is why researchers from the Oceanography and Climate Laboratory (LOCEAN) are particularly keen on analysing sea ice mass and the temperature and salinity of the mixed layer under the ice. 

Physical changes to this fragile balance have repercussions all along the food chains, from plankton and krill – small crustaceans that play a vital role in sustaining larger predator populations as well as in providing the world’s food – to sea mammals and birds, icons of these freezing ecosystems. For biologists from the CNRS, such as those working at the Chizé Centre for Biological Studies (CEBC), these predators serve as sentinels of any sea ice changes occurring. The data collected not only by the CEBC, but also by a consortium of international partners (from Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa) regarding these animals means that elephant seals, for example, can serve as valuable assistants in obtaining both biological and physical snapshots of the health of the sea ice ecosystem and especially of the mysteries unfolding below the ice.

Astronomy is another discipline represented in the line-up of Antarctic research: as is the case with physicists studying the atmosphere, astronomers from observatories in the Côte d'Azur region and Lyon take advantage of the continent’s pure air to conduct measurements that would be very difficult at other latitudes.

All of this research, both fundamental and applied, is undertaken in the spirit of international cooperation, which is logical given this exceptional corner of the planet, where the Earth’s populations work hand in hand to safeguard a unique environment. In this regard, CNRS researchers have for many years been highly involved in the working groups and governing bodies of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the mouthpiece of the International Science Council at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) and at the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP).

The French Southern and Antarctic Territories (TAAF)

The senior administrator of the French Southern and Antarctic Territories (TAAF) is France’s designated authority for implementing the provisions of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol), which lays down the principles applicable to human activities in Antarctica. As such, the administrator authorizes and monitors activities under their remit, chiefly scientific missions undertaken by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) in Adélie Land and at the Concordia station, and tourist expeditions run by French operators on the Antarctic peninsula.

Since 1955, the TAAF are also responsible for the administration of Adélie Land and the sub-Antarctic archipelagos (Kerguelen and Crozet Islands). Pursuant to the Antarctic Treaty, the authorities have jurisdiction only over French nationals. The ice-breaker patrol vessel, Astrolabe, ensures the vital transport of supplies and personnel to France’s Dumont d’Urville station; the Astrolabe is owned by the TAAF, equipped by the Navy, and its polar activities coordinated by the IPEV.

L'Astrolab © SERGE FUSTER - TAAF

The Astrolabe

The Astrolabe undertakes logistics missions for the TAAF and the IPEV, mainly transporting provisions for the Dumont d’Urville scientific station in Antarctica. These operations, known as the Antarctic Logistics Support Missions, run five times a year out of the port of Hobart, in Tasmania (Australia), which is located some 2,700 km north of the station. This vessel, which ensures logistics operations for our scientific stations, is operated by the French Navy.

French partner institutions

  • TAAF
  • CNRS
  • Ministère de la transition écologique
  • IPEV

Timeline

France in Antarctica

  • Jean-Baptiste Bouvet de Lozier’s voyage in the Southern Ocean. He is the first to identify tabular icebergs and discover the island which now bears his name.

  • Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen de Trémarec undertakes two voyages in the Southern Ocean. He discovers the archipelago that is now named after him.

  • French navigators under the command of Jules Dumont d’Urville set sail in search of the South Magnetic Pole. On 21 January 1840, they land on the continent of Antarctica and Dumont d’Urville names the area after his wife: Adélie Land.

  • Jean-Baptiste Charcot’s first Antarctic expedition. His discoveries include the places known today as Port Lockroy and Port Charcot and he is the first Frenchman to winter over in the Antarctic.

  • Charcot’s second Antarctic expedition. He discovers the Loubet Coast, the Fallières Coast, Marguerite Bay, Charcot Island, Pavie Island, Adelaide Island, Rothschild Island and Millerand Island.

  • Founding of the Expéditions Polaires Françaises (EPF). Paul-Emile Victor is the Director until 1976.

  • First EPF expedition in Adélie Land. The EPF builds the Port-Martin station where there are two successful overwinters.

  • Second and third EPF expeditions in Adélie Land.

  • A fire destroys the Port-Martin station and the French team relocates to Petrel Island in the Géologie Archipelago, 5 km from the continent, where the Dumont d’Urville station is currently located.

  • The Dumont d’Urville station is established.

  • The Charcot station is built in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year, 320 km from the Dumont d’Urville station.

  • France’s participation in the International Geophysical Year (IGY) culminates in the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in Washington on 1 December 1959, with France being one of the original signatories. The Treaty enters into force on 23 June 1961.

  • Closure of the Charcot station.

  • The fifth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) is held in Paris, chaired by France.

  • Adoption of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, to which France is a founding Contracting Party.

  • Adoption of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to which France is an original Contracting Party. It enters into force on 7 April 1982.

  • ATCM XV hosted in Paris and chaired by France. France and Australia refuse to ratify the recently drafted Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities.

  • Adoption of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, known as the “Madrid Protocol”. It enters into force on 14 January 1998.

  • Merger of EPF and the TAAF Research Mission. Creation of the French Institute for Polar Research and Technology (IFRTP).

  • The IFRTP and its Italian counterpart, ENEA (Ente per le Nuove Tecnologie, l'Energia e l'Ambiente), sign an agreement on the construction of a French-Italian station on Dome C. Two years later, construction of the Concordia station begins.

  • Opening of summer facilities for the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA).

  • EPICA ice coring commences on Dome C, with France’s active participation.

  • The IFRTP becomes the Institut Polaire Français Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV).

  • France passes Act 2003-347 on environmental protection in Antarctica. The TAAF are designated as the authority for conducting environmental impact assessments under the Madrid Protocol.

  • Construction of the Concordia winter station is completed. The first overwinter commences early the following year, during which the first thirteen overwinterers are completely self-sufficient for nine months.

  • Representing France, Yves Frénot, Director of the IPEV, chairs the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), created by the Madrid Protocol.

  • The CCAMLR decides to establish a representative system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean.

  • Visit to Antarctica by Ms Frédérique Vidal, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

  • ATCM XLIII hosted by France (France’s third time organizing the ATCM, following 1968 and 1989).