French Polar POD Expedition announces official launch | Polarjournal
According to the plans of the project partners, the “Polar POD” station is to be brought into the Southern Ocean as early as 2024, where it will then drift around Antarctica for up to three years. Research teams on board are to collect a lot of important and previously unknown data. Image: Polar POD

Research on Antarctica and its influence on a wide variety of processes on Earth has experienced a massive upswing in recent years. But despite the numerous research stations and expeditions in Antarctica, large parts are still unexplored and many questions remain unanswered, especially the interaction with the Southern Ocean. The French project “Polar POD” wants to change this with a swimming station and has now been officially launched.

In a press release, the French Marine Research Institute Ifremer, together with Jean-Louis Étienne, the initiator of the project, and the two construction companies Piriou Shipyards and 3C Metal, announced the official launch of the Polar POD project. The necessary funds, the technical feasibility studies and the research program have now been completed, the statement said. The construction of the station had started on September 1 in the shipyard of the French shipbuilder Piriou and in the workshops of the French metal fabricator 3C Metal. According to the project team, the station is expected to be completed and deployed to the starting point in the area of operations in the Southern Ocean, by 2024. Already well advanced is the construction of the supply sailing vessel “Perseverance”, which is currently being built in Vietnam.

On the one hand, the unique station will be built in the shipyard of the French shipbuilder Piriou in Concadeau, a town in Brétagne between Brest and Lorient. The shipyard has been in business since 1965 and builds mainly small and medium-sized ships up to 120 meters in size. This is where the four-deck gondola, in which up to 8 scientists will work and live, will be built. The girders, the ring, the weight boxes at the end of the station and the final assembly of all parts will be done by the French metal fabrication company 3C Metal in Southwest France and in Cape Town, South Africa. “We are very happy to take part in this audacious adventure and to take up a technological challenge that is perfectly in line with Piriou’s innovation strategy and its commitment to decarbonizing maritime transport,” says Piriou Group President Vincent Faujour. And Philippe Boy, the head of 3C Metal, also says: “All 3C Metal teams are on board to make this unique and ambitious project a true success..”

In the video, project initiator and polar researcher Jean-Louis Étienne presents his vision of “Polar POD”. This is not a normal station, but a “vertically floating ship,” states the 76-year-old researcher and physician. His plans are backed by Swiss watchmaker Hublot, among others. Video: Hublot Youtube

For the project initiator and father of Polar POD, the French polar researcher and physician Jean-Louis Étienne, a long-cherished dream finally comes true with the official launch of the project. “Polar POD is certainly the most ambitious expedition I’ve worked on since 2010,” says the 76-year-old explorer, who was the first person to hike to the North Pole alone and unassisted and had been part of the Transantarctica-expedition of 1989-90 which was the first time that Antarctica was crossed without mechanical assistance (but at that time still with dog sleds). “I am not afraid to say that it is my masterpiece. Therefore, the start of the construction process of this ‘vertical ship’ is a great moment in my life as a polar explorer.”

The station is to be brought by ship to the “Furious Fifties” area, where it will then be righted and, thanks to its support system, size (see left for comparison) and ballast boxes weighing up to 150 tons, it should drift relatively stably even in the heaviest of storms. Energy is generated by wind power, the station is driven by the current of the Southern Ocean. Up to 8 people will live on the station and will be changed every 2 months. Pictures: Polar POD

Officially declared as “zero emissions,” the station is scheduled to begin operations in 2024, twice circling Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. The French Marine Research and Technological Institute Ifremer is responsible for the project. In collaboration with Jean-Louis Étienne, topics from the fields of oceanography, marine biology, wind and wave research, and satellite data verification were selected to be studied during two circumnavigations of Antarctica. The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) has been entrusted with the management of the scientific programme. “It is undoubtedly an important step in the overall project, which aims to improve knowledge of the Southern Ocean and its interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere,” says Ifremer Chairman François Houllier. The program is supported by 43 research institutions worldwide, but also by the French government as part of its “France 2030” innovation program and by various companies, including the Swiss watchmaker Hublot.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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