Swiss Polar Institute rises on national level | Polarjournal
Switzerland began its polar research history in Greenland in 1912 with the expedition of Alfred de Quérvain. It is precisely on this island that Swiss scientists have been and continue to be involved in various branches of research to gain a better understanding of the polar regions. Ice, climate, permafrost, biology, geology are just a few of the topics studied. Image: From the collection of ETH Zurich, via Wiki Media Commons

Switzerland has had a polar research branch in its scientific centre for more than a hundred years. The founding of the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) five years ago marked a milestone in Swiss polar research. This is because a centre has been created which can act as a coordination and competence centre for Swiss polar researchers, who enjoy a great international reputation. The Swiss Federal Council has now awarded the SPI a knighthood and elevated it to the rank of a “research institution of national importance”.

The new status now allows the SPI to strengthen its work in the field of coordination and funding of polar research projects. But communication and visibility to the public can now also be expanded with the new status. “This new status is a great recognition of the impact and excellence of the Swiss research performed in the Arctic, Antarctic and at high-altitude,” says Professor Martin Vetterli, Chairman of the Board of the SPI. “Our priority will be to help Swiss science develop new initiatives, access international infrastructure and work across disciplines and boundaries.” In a communiqué, the Federal government announced that the SPI and 30 other institutions with the same status will receive about 460 million Swiss francs over the next three years.

One of the largest and most complex projects and also something like the baptism of fire of the SPI was the first Swiss Antarctic expedition ACE. Over the course of one season, a chartered icebreaker with researchers on board circumnavigated Antarctica in three stages, taking numerous measurements and samples. The SPI helped to secure funding and logistics. Picture: Parafilms/EPFL

Research projects in the polar regions are more specialized than other research locations. The logistics and technology required to carry out field work under scientifically adequate conditions alone are much greater. Professor Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, Chair of the SPI’s Science and Technology Advisory Board, is well aware of this. “Nothing worse than arriving at the remote field site after months of preparation and then the instrument fails – it simply means that you lost a full year of data,” she says. The SPI ensures that researchers in polar and alpine regions can carry out their projects to the highest international standards and also gains easier access to other international research institutions and projects. It also provides financial support for the projects of Swiss institutes conducting research in the polar and alpine regions. In addition, SPI organizes training and learning courses and events, all related to polar and high-altitude research.

The SPI is currently housed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology EPFL in Lausanne. But in the next few years, the plan is to change the location. The SPI secretariat currently employs 12 people. Image: Christoph Müller via Wiki Media Commons

In order to be able to achieve the goals of strengthening Swiss polar research, a so-called “flagship programme” is now to be launched from next year with the new status and the associated financial resources. An interdisciplinary, multi-year programme of projects, carried out by scientists at Swiss research institutions, is supported and accompanied by the SPI in various areas. Furthermore, if all plans can be implemented, the SPI will soon be able to move to new premises a bit closer to the mountains. This means that the Swiss Polar Institute is now also geographically on a higher level.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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