Prestigious award for two well-known Antarctic researchers | Polarjournal
The “Belgica Medal” of the Royal Belgian Academy of Sciences has been awarded only every five years since 1963 for outstanding service in Antarctic research. The first medal for this purpose was awarded to the participants of the Antarctic expedition of the same name. Photos: Jean Elsen & fils via

Polar research in Belgium goes back a long way. In fact, it was Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery and his crew on board the “Belgica” who were the first international research group to even overwinter in Antarctica between 1897 – 1899. They received much praise for this and also, for the first time, a medal for their achievement in polar research. Two researchers who have also made major contributions to the exploration of Antarctica are now receiving a similarly prestigious award.

The new winners of the “Belgica Medal” are Belgian Alain Hubert, founder and president of the International Polar Foundation, and French glaciologist and EPFL professor Jérôme Chappellaz. Both will be awarded the medal for their services to research in Antarctica. The award will be presented at a ceremony at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Brussels next March 2024.

The well-known French glaciologist Professor Jérôme Chappellaz has played a major role in shaping knowledge of climate change with his research on ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland, and has spent much time in Antarctica. The former head of the French polar institute IPEV works as a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology EPFL in Lausanne. (Photo: Jean-Yves Vitoux via Wikicommons)

According to its own information, the academy honors Professor Jérôme Chappellaz for his research work on ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, which made it possible to reconstruct the global climate history of the last 800,000 years. But that is only part of the accomplishments the 58-year-old French glaciologist has achieved in polar research in more than 35 years. He led the French Polar Institute IPEV from 2018 – 2022, is heavily involved in the follow-up project in search of the oldest ice “Beyond EPICA” which should enable research into up to another 700,000 years of climate history.

He is also chairing the Ice Memory Foundation, which is drilling for an entire collection of ice cores around the world and establishing an archive near the French-Italian Concordia station.

For his work, which has been strongly influenced by the recently deceased famous glaciologist Claude Lorius, Chappellaz has already been awarded the “Niels Bohr Medal of Honor” and in 2021 he was knighted by the French Legion of Honor. Jérôme Chappellaz teaches at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne EPFL, among others.

The Belgian Alain Hubert founded the International Polar Foundation in 2002, which today is a major player in the Belgian Antarctic program, and was the initiator of the Belgian zero-emission station Princess Elisabeth Antarctica (in the background). (Photo: International Polar Foundation)

The second winner, Belgian polar explorer Alain Hubert, is also awarded the medal for his extraordinary achievements in the field of polar research. On the one hand, he is the first Belgian to reach the North Pole in 1994, crossed the Arctic from Siberia to Greenland in 2007 and Antarctica 9 years earlier, both with the late adventurer Dixie Dansercoer, who died in 2021. He is also the founder of the International Polar Foundation, which today makes a significant contribution to the Belgian polar program, and he was the initiator of the Belgian Antarctic station Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, which is the first zero-emission station in East Antarctica since 2006.

Receiving the award from the Belgian state is a great honor for 70-year-old Hubert, as he explains. “It is a privilege to be able to contribute to the tradition of Belgian polar research and international polar research founded by Adrien de Gerlache, and to help ensure that Belgian polar researchers can benefit from a platform that fully showcases their considerable scientific skills.”

The medal, which is being presented for only the twelfth time, was officially awarded in 1904 by then King Leopold II to the participants of the first Belgian Antarctic expedition “Belgica” under Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery, which today is considered the starting signal for international research efforts in Antarctica. However, it is only since 1963 that the medal has been regularly awarded to outstanding individuals in Antarctic research. Other awardees include Claude Lorius, David John Drewry of BAS, and Professor Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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