The Antarctic Station is 40 years old and has a serious funding problem

The Antarctic Station is 40 years old and has a serious funding problem

The Antarctic Station, which has been in existence for 40 years, is struggling with underfunding – urgent repairs are needed, for example. infrastructure. Without the facility, Poland will lose the opportunity to participate in decision-making on the future of Antarctica, scientists alert.

Antarctic Station im. H. Arctowski cave has a serious problem with the location of the head of theówny building. At the time it was erected, 40 years ago, it was located several metersów from the sea; now, at high states wód is less than a meter.

– The process of erosion is inevitable. We expect that a major storm could occur at any time and one wing would have to be taken out of service," Dr. hab said in an interview with PAP. Robert Bialik, head of the Department of Antarctic Biology at the Institute of Biophysics and Biophysics (IBB) of the Academy of Sciences – Squareówki, która manages the station.

Much to be desired is left to the róalso the technical condition of the 40-year-old structure. Maintenance of the station's infrastructure is not favored by Antarctic climatic conditions, due to the salt present in the atmosphere.

The Ministry of Science and Higher Education is seeking funds for the construction of the new IBB PAN building.

Construction of a new station building, including several new laboratoriesóin and the residential part, valued at approx. 90 million zlotys. The project of the station is ready. Bialik points out that the construction costs included róAlso transport of materialóin construction, whichóry will absorb half of this amount.

As PAP was informed by Dr. hab. Bialik, an answer from the science ministry on the matter is expected by scientists "in the coming days".

Currently, the annual subsidy for the station's operations is approx. PLN 6 million (five years ago it was twice as much). The funds are earmarked for logistical security – chartering of shipsóin transportation, employment of an employeeów, food, fuel or repair of equipmentów.

– This is an amount that is completely insufficient for the operation of the. It is not possible to purchase new equipmentów, and some of the infrastructure is as old as the station – notes Dr. hab. Bialik. According to estimatesóin the station authority to purchase new equipment and self "operation of the station at an appropriate level" requires about 10 million zlotys.

According to the decree of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the station is considered to be a so-called "special research facility". special research unit (SPUB). Funds for SPUB cannot be allocated to e.g. for the purchase of meansów durable, making it impossible to replace outdated equipment with new ones. – Consequently, we are refurbishing amphibious vehicles, excavators or bulldozers that are several decades old," notes the coordinator of the SPUB. Antarctic logistics at the Institute of Biophysics and Biochemistry of the Academy of Sciences Dr. Dariusz Puczko.

Uncertain future

Since 2012. The subsidy has increased, and the station operator has also changed. Currently it is the IBB of the Academy of Sciences (previously it was the Department of Antarctic Biology of the Academy of Sciences). During this time, several investments have been made, e.g. power plant has been renovated, whichóra now burns almost half as much oil as it used to (now approx. 60 thousand. literóin a year).

Poland – as one of the signatories of the Antarctic Treaty – is among the 29 consultative countries, whichóre can make decisions on human activities in Antarctica. – The presence of researchers in the area is only one element of theóin the game for political influence over the zone, whichóra does not have an owner," points out Bialik.

One of the conditions of theów allowing to join is to carry out significant scientific research work, such as establishing a scientific station or sending a scientific expedition. There must also be the consent of the other treaty countries.

As Bialik notes, no one disputes the right of the Polaków to conduct research in the Antarctic. The future of this research, however, depends on funding and maintaining a functioning infrastructure.

– No one will throw us out of there, if we don't throw ourselves out of there," the researcher quips.

A tasty morsel

Signatories to the treaty have agreed to use the Antarctic only for peaceful purposes and to ban activities of an armed nature. In accordance with the provisions of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (since 1998.) the region is treated as a huge nature reserve: no raw materials are mined thereów. After the póThe century, so in 2048., provisions, including – on the prohibition of mining of raw materialsów, however, may change.

– Antarctica hides rich, but for the time being difficult to obtain resources. However, as a result of climate change, they are becoming more readily available and the temptation will grow, Dr. Puczko noted.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told PAP that in 2048 a. Any party to the treaty can request the convening of a "protocol review conference". – This provision is also sometimes misinterpreted as causing "expiration" Protocol, while in fact it is only an opportunity to review the application of the Protocol, the ministry noted.

The Foreign Ministry recalled that at the last meeting of the Antarctic Treaty states parties in 2016. A resolution has been adopted (with Poland's support). It expressed the belief that the environmental protocol's provision on the prohibition of non-scientific activities with regard to resourcesóin minerals (which, in practice, means mining activities), will also be in effect after 2048. – informs the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noting that the commitment in this regard does not automatically expire.

An important element of the Antarctic Treaty is the freezing of territorial claims to Antarctica. Even before the deal went into effect – to the area, on któhe station faces claims from the United Kingdom, Chile and Argentina. – Taking into account the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty, Poland currently has no plans to make territorial claims to Antarctica, the Foreign Ministry told PAP.

Arctowski station unique

Asked about the future of the continent – Bialik acknowledged that the Antarctic community will expand. In recent years, more countries have expressed their desire to join the treaty (in 2015, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Iceland signed it – without voting rights).

– Freedom to conduct scientific research in the Antarctic is currently considered a priority. However, there is a noticeable military presence in the area – mówi Bialik.

– Many stations, even in the vicinity of Arctowski, are sites managed by defense ministries róof other countries; admittedly, scientists conduct research on them, but they are only guests there. The station is unique in this regard – because it is managed and used exclusively by scientistsów – explains PAP Dr. Dariusz Puczko.

Bialik added that only through cooperationócooperation with Chile and Argentina it is possible to manage the station effectively. As for the transport of people to and from the station – Poles most often use the infrastructure of the very countriesów.

Antarctic Station im. The Henryka Arctowski site is located on póThe southern hemisphere in the Shetland archipelagoóin the South, on the island of Króla George. Partially in 1998. has undergone an overhaul – it has been replaced inóThe living quarters have been renovated, and a new roof has been put on. The remaining infrastructure has been maintained for 40 years. The station began operations on February 26, 1977. Since then, it has been continuously used by researchers. It is an informal "embassy" On the only uninhabited continent.