On Wednesday, Ed and I attended a seminar on British and German Cooperation in the Antarctic hosted by Member of Parliament Neil Carmichael, sponsored by the National Environment Research Council, and under the umbrella of Modern Europe. Modern Europe is an independent think tank that Carmichael set up in 2013 that seeks to identify the key issues facing Britain as it debates its future relationship with the EU.
Britain has had a presence in the Antarctic from the very beginning. It was British explorer Sir Robert Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s great race to be the first to the South Pole in the age of polar exploration that first drew international interest. The UK has had half a dozen bases on the ice in three main locations, the first one being Signy Research Station established in 1947.
German presence is fairly new to the Antarctic, and their first base, Georg von Neumayer Station, was erected in 1981, followed by two more in 1992 and 2009. The nature of British and German cooperation is rather symbiotic, similar to that of the U.S. and New Zealand, where there is much mutual respect, an exchange of scientific ideas and information and a sharing of resources and logistics such as transportation.
The British Antarctic program is operated through the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and anyone planning a trip to the ice has to have their travel plan approved by them. The most exciting and highly publicized adventures to the continent in the last year have been those Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Prince Harry.
Sir Ranulph was to be part of the first group to cross the continent (about 4,000 km / 2,000 miles) in the winter, but he developed frost bite during a training exercise and couldn’t participate. The remaining team was only able to cover about 300 km (185 miles) due to heavy crevasse fields before abandoning the expedition.
Prince Harry’s team met with similar difficulties. Their goal was to complete a 200-mile trek to the South Pole on Dec. 13 to raise awareness for the charity Walking with the Wounded, but they had to be evacuated before an incoming blizzard.
If you’re new to Antarctic issues, the main focuses are on climate change, human impact on the environment, conservation and protecting marine areas from industrial fishing. Just last year Carmichael initiated and helped push a conservation bill called the Antarctic Act thought the UK parliament. If you’d like to read more about the exciting work that the UK and Germany are doing in these areas, please visit the BAS and Alfred Wegener Institute websites.