"Belgica 121" mission sets off


On 19 February 2019, a group of around ten Belgian researchers set off for Antarctica. They will study the effects of global warming and plastic particles in the Southern Ocean.

What is special about the expedition is that it has been organised on a light sailboat that causes little in the way of pollution, and should limit the environmental impact of the research, which is normally carried out on board an icebreaker. Christened 'Australis', "the sailboat also allows greater agility and to get closer to the coast", explains the head of the mission. Last year, a first attempt was unsuccessful due to a problem with the ship's engine. "We had to turn back", explains Bruno Danis ruefully.

The researchers will first fly to Ushuaia, from where they will set sail for Antarctica. When they reach their destination, they will anchor for a month in the Strait of Gerlache.  The scientists will observe how marine ecosystems in the Antarctic are responding to global warming. "These ecosystems, which were hitherto unspoilt, are undergoing rapid environmental changes evidenced by rising water temperatures, changes in salinity and melting glaciers, with a direct impact on biodiversity," explains Bruno Danis. Another area of focus is the presence of plastic particles in the Southern Ocean, which until recently was considered relatively unspoilt by pollution.