February 16, 2009

Belgian Polar Research Station Begins Operation

Forty-two years after the closure of its first Antarctic base, Belgium opened a new $26 million "zero emissions" polar science station in Antarctica on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

The Belgian-based International Polar Foundation introduced the Princess Elisabeth research hub, which it claims is totally energy self-sufficient and will release few, if any, carbon dioxide emissions.

Governments everywhere are seeking out alternative energy sources to combat climate change brought on by global warming. And experts say solar panels on the Antarctic Peninsula can collect as much energy in a year as many places in Europe.

Constructed on stilts on top of a ridge just north of the Soer Rondane Mountains, the base will focus on analyzing nearby deep ice shelves.

Teams of scientists, including glaciologists, are already at work there from Belgium, Japan, France, Britain and the United States.

Belgian Defense Minister Pieter De Crem and other government officials inaugurated the station on Sunday.

De Crem told VRT television from Antarctica: "It is really important that as a small country we can show our participation in large international efforts here in Antarctica."

"The base is in an isolated area where there has been little research done," said Maaike Van Cauwenbergh, from the Belgian Science Policy Office.

She said the steel-encased station is located in a vast 600-mile zone between the Russian and Japanese research stations.

The Princess Elisabeth uses microorganisms and decomposition that allows scientists to re-use shower and toilet water up to five times before discarding it down a crevasse.

Wind turbines on the Utsteinen mountain ridge provide the station with power, while solar panels on the bug-like, three-story building ensure the base has hot water.

The station raises new standards in research on the inhospitable polar continent, IPF said.

The polar group released a statement saying: "The Princess Elisabeth station attests that there is growing public interest in projects carrying a message of sustainable development, especially in terms of energy management."

"The conception of a 'zero emission' building capable of standing up to the extreme conditions in the Antarctic goes to show that similar techniques can also be deployed in more temperate areas of the world," it added.

The station was constructed over two years in Belgium and then relocated to the South Pole, where it was reconstructed for operation.


Image Caption: Building concept: impression of the building integration on-site.


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