An environment difficult to access and hostile to human beings, the central Arctic is therefore little known.
In particular scientists, who can only access it part of the year, in summer.
Yet it is a sentinel of climate change, where the current and expected effects are the strongest.
Hence the challenge of being able to observe it over the long term.
This is the goal of the new expedition being prepared by the Tara Ocean Foundation.
Build a floating boat, not so far from a space station, where scientists could drift for 500 days.
An icy desert, temperatures that fall very low below 0°C, a sun below the horizon half the year.
With then, for only light, the Moon which shines in the sky.
“And in summer, it's the opposite,” continues Chris Bowler, research director at the CNRS and president of the scientific committee of the Tara Océan Foundation.
It is the brightest place on the planet, with more photons received per day than anywhere else.
No doubt, the Arctic is hostile to us humans.
But the biologist invites us not to be mistaken: “It is also a marine oasis, with species specifically adapted to these very particular conditions, he insists.
Not only polar bears, seals, whales… But also microscopic planktonic organisms at the base of all life in the Arctic.
A laboratory boat like a spaceship
Will this unique ecosystem disappear?
This is one of the questions underlying the new expedition being prepared by the Tara Ocean Foundation.
Which, since 2003, has multiplied ocean expeditions to understand the impact of climate change and human activities on these environments.
She had already set sail for the North Pole between 2007 and 2008. It was with her scientific schooner
, for a crossing of the pack ice which had, among its main objectives, that of probing the depths to feed the climate forecast models of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Head for this extreme again with a much more ambitious expedition, scheduled to start in the summer of 2025… and last twenty years.
won't be part of it.
Instead, the foundation has imagined, over the past five years, the Tara Polar Station, which could almost be compared to the International Space Station (ISS) in space.
“It's both a boat, a scientific base, a hospital, an artists' residence, a place to live…, tries to describe Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Ocean Foundation.
It will be 26 m long and 14 wide, all giving 400 m² of living space spread over four levels.
"There will be a machine room, laboratories, work spaces, others for collective living, an infirmary directly linked to the Chamonix hospital *..." Twenty people will live on board in the summer, a figure reduced at 12 in winter, the most trying season, "to allow everyone to have their own cabin", explains Romain Troublé.
"Multiply the 500-day diversions in this ocean of ice"
Scientists will make up most of the crew, but there will also be sailors, engineers, a chef or journalists and artists in residence occasionally.
The whole forms “like a small hamlet at the North Pole”, describes Romain Troublé.
Small hamlet that will have to be diverted in total autonomy and "limiting our impact on the environment as much as possible".
Everything has been designed to meet these two requirements.
Up to the amazing shape of this base, oval.
"The most suitable for aiming for maximum energy efficiency, a fundamental issue for the missions we intend to carry out", explains the sailor and biologist.
The Tara Polar Station is also designed to withstand temperatures of -52°C.
It will also be able to ship ten tons of food, will have its desalination station – to produce up to 1.
This is the strength of the Tara Polar Station: being able to multiply the diversions of 500 days in this ocean of ice.
“Today, scientific expeditions to the Arctic take place between July and September, and the icebreakers that bring scientists never stop very long in one place, compares Romain Troublé.
However, to do biology, it takes a long time.
Chris Bowler and Gerhard Krinner, CNRS climatologist and co-author of the IPCC's sixth assessment report, have high hopes for the new knowledge that such a laboratory would provide.
No doubt, in any case, explains the second: it is indeed in the Arctic that one must be to understand and measure the current and future climatic impacts.
“The Arctic is a sentinel of climate change,” he explains.
As predicted by scientists fifty years ago, it is in this region that the impacts of global warming – already +1.1°C since the pre-industrial era – are most felt.
And what follows is hardly encouraging.
Maps of climate change projections, which track levels of greenhouse gas emissions, streak the entire region in dark red.
"The Arctic as a sentinel of climate change"
The first visible sign is the decrease in the observed extent of Arctic ice in summer.
"In the next twenty years, we will move from an ocean that is still largely frozen today in summer to an increasingly free ocean, creating a new ecosystem that we do not know", continues Gerhard Kinner.
If the Arctic Ocean is in the front line, the surrounding regions also have everything to fear from this forced warming.
From Greenland, this huge ice cap, to Siberia and Alaska.
“There is pergisol in these continental regions, land frozen all year round which contains a lot of organic matter, illustrates for example the climatologist.
If the climate changes in the Arctic, the pergisol thaws and organic matter decomposes, adding further greenhouse gas emissions.
It is this nerve center of the climate system that the Tara Polar Station Foundation intends to explore continuously.
Three years from the first departure, it is still too early to know in detail the first research programs.
But Chris Bowler, scientific co-director of this mission, already has major directions in mind.
"Before it's too late, it will already be a question of characterizing the marine biodiversity of the Arctic Ocean and understanding how it has adapted to such a hostile environment," he begins.
This presence throughout the year will also allow us to obtain data that we lack to understand the Arctic climate, to follow the seasonal successions, to reference the changes from one year to the next.
A station yet to be built
Chris Bowler continues the list of promises of this Tara Polar Station for a long time.
The first step, however, will be to build it.
This should start by the end of the year, specifies Romain Troublé.
The location of the construction site is not yet known.
"But it will be in Europe," says the director of the Tara Ocean Foundation.
And it should last eighteen months.
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