Prof. Isabelle Schön
Principal Investigator and team leader Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels, Belgium)
The Antarctic research collaboration Peru-Belgium
Antarctic is the most remote continent on earth. It has a special status, which is protected by the International Antarctic Treaty and other international agreements. Antarctica is a scientific preserve with freedom of scientific investigations and a ban of all military activities. The treaty was the first arms control agreement during the Cold War and signed on 01.12.1959 by twelve countries, including Belgium. Peru is a state party of the treaty since 1981 and a consultative party since 1989.
Because of its isolated position and its long geological history, the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean harbor many endemic animal and plant species, which only occur here and nowhere else in the world. The Antarctic fauna furthermore shows special adaptations to its cold environments. Researchers and explorers have been fascinated by this area for a long time.
Belgian Antarctic research goes as far back as the Belgica expedition in 1897-1898, one of the first to explore the Antarctic. Some of the biological and geological samples taken during that expedition are curated at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. There have been two Belgian research stations on Antarctica – the King Boudain base (built on ice; 1957-1961 & 1963-1967) and the new Princess Elisabeth Station (since 2009, located on the continental shelf close in Queen Maud Land). Belgium has many research projects in Antarctica but no suitable research vessel for sampling the Southern Ocean.
Peruvian researchers have been active in Antarctica for more than 25 years; the Machu Picchu base on King George Island is functional since 1989 and there have been two research vessels, the B.I.C Humboldt and the new B.A.P. Carrasco (a class 7 polar vessel, since 2017).
In 2018, a Memorandum of Understanding between the federal Belgian and the Peruvian government was reached for joint activities in Antarctic research. In the coming Antarctic summer (2019-2020), six Belgian researchers will for the first time join a Peruvian ANTAR expedition. An overview of the ongoing Antarctic research in Belgium and its links to the ANTAR XVIIth expedition will also be presented.