Oksana Savenko, a marine biologist and polar explorer, with whom I had a pleasure to cooperate in a popular science project, recently shared an interview with her Antarctic expedition colleague, geophysicist Bogdan Gavrylyuk. It’s fascinating and worth watching if you understand Ukrainian (follow to her public page). Here, I would like to highlight a few points for my English-speaking fellows:
- Vernadsky station is a Ukrainian Antarctic research base located in Western Antarctica. The National Antarctic Scientific Center operates it;
- It was previously known as Faraday station. The base was established in 1947 as a British research station, and the UK government decided to sell the station in early 90-s what attracted several interested countries;
- Despite the Ukrainian contribution to the exploration of Antarctic, it was rejected to own one of the existing stations upon dissolution of the USSR;
- Due to the efforts of Ukrainian scientists and diplomats, and to the reciprocal support of the United Kingdom, Faraday station was transferred to Ukraine in 1995 to continue the existing research;
- Since then, annual Antarctic expeditions include station support staff, engineers, researchers from life and earth sciences, and a physician;
- Environmental measurements on the station started in 1947 and continue, making it probably the longest continuous track in Antarctica;
- The state research program has extended the original research scope, what lead, among others, to findings publications from own and collaborative projects in marine biology, geology, behavioral sciences, and to the discovery of a glacial lake on Galindez island;
- Due to the recent reforms in the Center, the recruitment process for new expeditions has become more transparent. Scientific projects undergo peer-review. Besides, female candidates can participate in expeditions again. Although it was never banned officially, there were “unofficial” limitations for approximately 20 years.
Why humanity even needs Antarctic research
According to NASA, in Antarctica we can find an equal number of meteorites as in all the rest of the world - they are preserved in ice, waiting for us to study them just like LAP-149, containing oxygen- and carbon-rich stardust from nova (Haenecour et al., 2019).
Extremal conditions of the coldest continent create opportunities to experiment with artificial habitats, study behavioral, cognitive (Nicolas et al., 2016), and physiological (Ombergen et al. 2020) changes in humans. After its discovery, the ozone depletion area above Antarctica (Farman, Gardiner & Shanklin, 1985) attracted interest in climate researchers and facilitated studying climate changes, and, in particular, global warming. Another point of research possible in Antarctica is climate change on Earth during its previous history.
The Antarctic Treaty, an agreement defining international relations regarding Antarctica, includes 54 parties today. Several of its aims are focused on the promotion of freedom of scientific investigations and the facilitation of research cooperation.
Wherever our future is, Antarctic exploration is the first step to advance human resilience in extreme conditions, based on science, technologies, and multinational cooperation.
Additional information on the topic:
- The website of the National Antarctic Scientific Center of Ukraine: http://uac.gov.ua/en/
- “The beginning of the history. A memorandum on the transfer of the British station to Ukraine was signed 25 years ago”: http://uac.gov.ua/en/the-beginning-of-the-history-a-memorandum-on-the-transfer-of-the-british-station-to-ukraine-was-signed-25-years-ago/
- The website of The Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty - scientific cooperation database: https://www.ats.aq/devAS/ToolsAndResources/SearchAtd?from=1/1/1958&to=1/1/2158&lang=e&cat=12