On 18 April 2016, Switzerland, intent on having its voice heard and making a contribution in a field in which it already had solid expertise, announced the creation of the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI). This initiative is based on the acknowledgement that the future of the Earth’s poles is critical.
This new interdisciplinary institute is devoted to researching the Earth's poles and other extreme environments. The SPI, based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), is a consortium of Swiss universities – EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, ETH Zurich and the University of Bern – and was cofounded with Editions Paulsen. Officially supported by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI), the SPI is a Swiss initiative with a decidedly international mission.
Not a “classical” research institute, the Swiss Polar Institute was created to provide services to and promote synergies within the polar community in Switzerland. As a start for 2018, this entails the creation of new funding instruments, aiming at:
- enabling PhD students and young post-docs to undertake field trips in Polar regions (Polar Access Fund);
- facilitating access to international maritime and summer schools for students and young researchers;
- supporting large-scale scientific projects;
- organizing new scientific expeditions.
To engage with the Swiss Polar community, the SPI:
- holds various consultations embedded within the decision-making process of the Institute;
- organises the Swiss Polar Day, an annual one-day conference on Polar science;
- offers services in the field of health and safety;
- supports networks of young Polar scientists such as APECS Swiss Chapter.
Finally yet importantly, the SPI wants to be present in the Polar Regions. In that regard and to mark its launch, the SPI has organised a first major initiative: the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), the first scientific expedition to fully sail around the southernmost continent in decades and which took place between December 2016 and March 2017. The purpose of this expedition is to measure and quantify the impact of climate change and pollution in the Southern Ocean.
Twenty-two research projects – submitted by teams from Switzerland, the UK, France, Australia, etc. – were selected for the expedition. The projects range from glaciology to climatology, biology and oceanography. They cover a spectrum of topics, including the composition of plankton, threatened animal species, the presence of microplastics in the surrounding water, the carbon cycle, microorganisms that flourish in the ocean depths or in ice, and the impact of waves on the coasts.
As a follow-up to the expedition, SPI is putting a particular emphasis on data management and is collaborating with the Swiss Data Science Center to apply Data Science methods to the various ACE datasets and to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration.
Follow the SPI on twitter @SwissPolar