NWO opens first Dutch laboratory on Antarctica

27 January 2013

On Sunday 27 January, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) opened the first Dutch laboratory on Antarctica. The Dirck Gerritsz Laboratory consists of four sea containers that have been converted into laboratories and placed in a docking station. In the laboratory Dutch scientists will carry out research into algae and traces of iron in the warming Antarctic seawater, for example.

Dirck Gerritz laboratorium docking stationDirck Gerritz laboratorium docking station

Up until now, Dutch researchers who wanted to do research on or around the South Pole were always dependent on the facilities of other countries with a base on Antarctica. The Dirck Gerritsz Laboratory is located at the British base Rothera but can also be located elsewhere if necessary. This approach not only saves on the costs of maintaining an own base and infrastructure but also minimises the damage caused to the Antarctic environment. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science are jointly investing €8.5 million in South Pole research.

State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, Sander Dekker: ‘What our scientists are doing on Antarctica is of course the stuff that boys adventure books are made of, but most of all it is a milestone. Now for the first time, Dutch top researchers have their own laboratory on Antarctica. A laboratory specifically designed for our research needs. With this laboratory we can make an important contribution to climate change and biodiversity research. Furthermore, by connecting with the British presence on Antarctica we do not have to reinvent the wheel and we can achieve a lot of results with a relatively small investment.’

A delegation from NWO, the Ministry of Education Culture and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened the laboratory. Crown Prince Willem Alexander spoke to the Anglo-Dutch party by means of a video message. The opening was originally planned for Friday 25 January but the delegation arrived on Antarctica two days later than planned due to bad weather. Strong winds had prevented any flights from Punta Arenas (Chile) to Antarctica.

The laboratory on Rothera is called the Dirck Gerritsz Laboratory and the four separate laboratory containers bear the names Faith, Hope, Love and Annunciation. In 1598 a convoy of ships left Rotterdam in search of a trade route via the tip of South America to Asia. The ships were called Faith, Hope, Love, Annunciation and Loyalty. In the Straits of Magellan the convoy was driven apart under extreme weather conditions. Annunciation, under the leadership of Dirck Gerritsz, was a blown far south. There Gerritsz saw a 'very high mountainous country, full of snow just like the country of Norway'. This was probably the first sighting of Antarctica.

As the laboratory containers must be able to survive extreme weather conditions, the expertise of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea research (NIOZ) was used in their design and construction. Each container contains special equipment for specific research. The modular approach of the docking station with separate containers means that the current containers can be replaced by other containers with different equipment in the future, should that prove necessary for new research.

Polar research

The investment in research laboratories and research at the South Pole is part of the Netherlands Polar Programme. This programme funds Dutch scientific research at and into the polar regions. The Netherlands is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty and as such is required to invest in research at the South Pole. Antarctica is warming up rapidly and, due to the worldwide circulation systems in the atmosphere and oceans, changes in the polar regions are felt throughout the world. Excellent research that leads to a thorough understanding of these changes is important for the Netherlands.

The Dutch scientists from NIOZ, the University of Groningen and Utrecht University are carrying out research into: iron and other trace elements dissolved in seawater of Marguerite Bay, West Antarctica; Antarctic algae in a changing world and the consequences of this for the food chain; the influence of glacial meltwater on marine microbial communities in Ryder Bay; freshwater flow and climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula; seasonal dynamics of climate gasses in the Antarctic coastal area.

About NWO

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) is the national research council in the Netherlands and has a budget of more than 500 million euros per year. NWO promotes quality and innovation in science by selecting and funding the best research. It manages research institutes of national and international importance, contributes to strategic programming of scientific research and brings science and society closer together. Research proposals are reviewed and selected by researchers of international repute. More than 5000 scientists can carry out research thanks to funding from NWO.


Further information:

Source: NWO


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