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The Polish station in Antarctica still without funds for a new building

15.09.2017 Nature, Universities

Photo: Fotolia

Researchers from the Polish research station in Antarctica have failed to obtain 90 million zlotys from the Ministry of Science for the necessary construction of new main building. The Ministry of Science and Higher Education informed PAP that it was in talks with other ministries on a joint multi-annual support program for polar research.

Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, located on King George Island in the South Shetland archipelago, has been operating since the late 1970s. Scientists have been alarming for years about its bad situation, resulting, among other things, from the location of the main station building. When it was erected 40 years ago, it was several meters from the sea; now, at high waters, it's less than one meter.


The sea has already forced polar researchers to move one of the station's buildings further inland. However, in the case of the main building - because of its size and type of construction - this is not possible.


The station administrator - the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics PAS - has been asking the Ministry of Science and Higher Education for two years to finance the construction of a new main building. Its construction cost (with several new laboratories and residential part) was estimated at almost 90 million zlotys.


Under the regulation of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the station is considered Special Research Equipment. Funds for Special Research Equipment may not be used, for example, to purchase fixed assets, which makes it impossible to replace obsolete equipment with new one.


Dr. Robert Bialik, head of the Department of Antarctic Biology at the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics PAS, explained in an interview with PAP that the station employees use funds that the institute receives for the station maintenance to carry out ongoing maintenance. "But the truth is that the facility last received significant funding for infrastructure at the end of the 1990s" - he noted out. In his view, in the light of Antarctic research, it is "an old man who needs a successor".


Therefore, last Thursday (August 31), the authorities of the institution once again submitted to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education an investment proposal for the construction of a new main building of Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station.


A similar proposal was submitted last year, but without success (the institute received the ministry's response in July 2017). In response to PAP's question about the decision to allocate funds for the construction of the station building, the press office of the ministry of education replied that "the proposal of the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics PAS did not have a positive decision at any stage of the procedure, nor was it qualified for financing". In the justification sent at the request of the institute, the ministry wrote that the planned investment, in spite of the huge costs, was justified. Well-defined research plan, description of scientific cooperation and the importance of investments for the development of international cooperation were considered the strong aspects of the proposal. The weak parts included the lack of possibility of co-financing the investment by other ministries.



The Ministry of Science informed PAP that it was conducting "dialogue with interested ministers on the proposal of a joint program of multi-annual support for polar research based on the document +Polish Polar Research Strategy - concept for 2017-2027+ and strategic concepts of the programs being prepared by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs".


The Ministry of Science also reminded that in 2012, in addition to the Special Research Equipment maintenance funds, the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics PAS received more than PLN 3.3 million of special purpose subsidies to restructure the station. In the years 2014-2018, the funding for the station's operations allocated by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education exceeded PLN 6.5 million (including the Special Research Equipment funds).


"I can not imagine steps not being taken - they probably need to be taken at the government level - to maintain our operations and our presence in Antarctica" - Dr. Bialik told PAP.


The station is an informal Polish "embassy" on the only uninhabited continent. Poland - as one of the signatories of the Antarctic Treaty - is among the 29 consulting countries authorised to make decisions concerning human activity in Antarctica. One of the conditions for joining this group is carrying out important research work, such as setting up a scientific station or sending a scientific expedition. The consent of the other signatories is also required. However, the future of this research depends on the maintenance of the station building and its infrastructure.


According to Bialik, the lack of an operational station threatens Poland's loss of access to the "largest scientific laboratory" that is Antarctica, and lowering the importance of Poland as a consultative party of the Antarctic Treaty.


Meanwhile, as he added, the main station building could be shut down at any time, for example due to heavy storms. "We are subject to international law that imposes strict environmental protection regulations, including landscape protection, so we can not reinforce the waterfront. Construction of a new main building of Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station is necessary because in the event of decommissioning of the one we are currently using, we will have to significantly limit our scientific activity in Antarctica" - the scientist concluded.


Szymon Zdziebłowski (PAP)


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