France in Antarctica
The History and Activity of France in Antarctica
France has one of the longest
and most involved histories in Antarctica of
any country. From the very earliest days of
exploration, providing compelling
stories of the Heroic Age, involvement in
the International Geophysical Year, IGY to a
number of modern scientific bases going back
nearly 60 years and currently at the forefront
of modern research in Antarctica.
France was one of the very first signatory
nations of the Antarctic Treaty in 1960 and
is a consultative party with voting rights
able to make decisions about Antarctica.
Terre Adelie -
1956 - present
Dome C - Antarctic Plateau
1997 - present
Year round since 2005
Joint with Italy
The French National
Antarctic Program is led by the French Polar
Institute (Institut Polaire Français
Paul Emile Victor - IPEV) originally created
as the Institut Français pour la Recherche
et la Technologie Polaire (IFRTP) in 1992.
As well as the Antarctic stations Tabled
above), France also operates three stations
in the Sub-Antarctic islands, Crozet,
Kerguelen and Amsterdam Islands.
The Ministry of Research is responsible for
providing the budget of the IPEV:
approximately € 28 million, about € 15
million being allocated to scientific,
technical and logistical polar activities
and €10 million to oceanography.
There is an icebreaker, the
Astrolabe that services the Antarctic
programme sailing to Terre Adelie from
Concordia Station -
joint French / Italian at Dome C 3000m up on
the Eastern Antarctic ice sheet
explorations and sightings
Yves de Kerguelen-Tremarec
1772. Sent by King Louis XV to look
for previously reported rich and fertile
lands. He found but didn't land on (in poor
weather and visibility) the sub-Antarctic
(now named) Kerguelen Island which he called
South France. Upon return to France he lied
comprehensively about the potential of this
land mentioning timber, mines, diamonds and
a native population of wonderful physical
and moral specimens - none of these things
were true. After another expedition leading
three ships and failing to find again what
he had claimed he found the first time, he
was dismissed from service and thrown in
prison, quite a nice one though, a small
French Naval Expedition
- Jules Sébastian César Dumont D'Urville
- L'Astrolabe and Zéléé 1837- 1840.
1836 Emperor Louis Philippe of France wanted France to play a part in the
exploration of the Southern Seas. British and American whalers and sealers, had
been in Southern waters for over 50 years, France had yet to play any active
They set sail
in September 1837 and on January the 22nd 1838 sighted
the Antarctic Peninsula, they named a number
of islands and other features though were
unable to land due to the pack ice and went
north again. Another excursion was made to
Antarctica in January 1840, this time at the
other side of the continent in search of the
Southern Magnetic Pole. On the 21st of
January Dumont d'Urville and a small party
landed on an ice free island and named the
area Terra Adélie after d'Urville's wife. Seeing a new kind of
penguin, he named that too after his wife. At a cost of 22 crew dead and 27 deserted,
they had brought back more natural history specimens than had ever been
obtained in a single voyage before. Dumont d'Urville's account of
third voyage took up 23 volumes and 5 atlases.
Charcot - Français
Expedition 1903 - 1905. The ship Français
was constructed initially for the Arctic.
The destination was changed by Jean Baptiste Charcot when
Otto Nordenskjöld and his ship the
Antarctic went missing in Antarctica. Nordenskjöld
and his party had been rescued by the time
Charcot reached Buenos Aries though he
continued to the Peninsula region. Engine
problems led to a curtailing of the planned
explorations. The winter was cold and
uncomfortable, Charcot's ship was nearly
wrecked the following summer after hitting a
submerged rock. Upon return to South
America, the ship was sold in
Argentina. Charcot and his crew returned
to France on board a liner. More than 600
miles of new coastlines and islands had been
surveyed, 18 volumes of scientific reports
Charcot - Pourquoi-Pas?
Second French Antarctic
Expedition 1908 - 1910. Charcot began to plan for his second
expedition almost as soon as he arrived back home
from his first. Learning from the lessons of
the first expedition and now able to attract
donations due to his reputation, the
expedition was very well equipped. Close to
the place where the Français
had been damaged, the Pourquoi-Pas?
also hit a submerged rock. Another difficult
winter followed with Charcot himself showing some
signs of scurvy. The results of the second French Antarctic Expedition had
been impressive, 1250 miles of coastline and newly discovered territory had
been surveyed. The maps made from the expedition were still in use
twenty-five years later. The scientific data filled 28 volumes, including
some of the 3000 photographs taken during the expedition.
Bases and Research after 1922
French Antarctic Expedition - 1950. The
first French station in Antarctica was named
Port Martin and was established in January
1950 at Cape Margerie in Adelie Land. In
January 1952 this base was severely damaged
when a fire burnt down the main building.
Fortunately no loss of life or injury was
sustained and as it was during the summer
period the personnel at Port Martin could be
relocated to a newly built station around
60km away on Petrel Island, Base Marret. The
now abandoned Marret base is now in Antarctic
Specially Protected Area (ASPA) no.166. It
is also designated as a Historic Site or
Monument (HSM) no. 46.
International Geophysical Year of 1956-58.
France was an active participant during this
year establishing Dumont d'Urville Station
on Petrel Island in Terre Adelie, this has
been in constant use since. As well as
carrying out scientific research of its own,
Dumont d'Urville is an important logistical
centre for the supply of Concordia Station
which lies deep inland.
Concordia Base 2005. A joint French /
Italian Base built at at altitude of 3,233m
above sea level at Dome C, the third highest
ice dome in Antarctica and one of the coldest
places on earth with an average annual air
temperature of -54.5°C.
There is a historical claim by
back to 1924 of that area of Antarctica
between 136°E and 142°E and stretching as
far north as 60°S.
France is one of seven nations that made a
claim to land in Antarctica before the
Antarctic Treaty of 1961, these being
Argentina, Chile, the United Kingdom,
France, Australia, New Zealand and Norway.
The UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and
Norway all recognize each other's claims,
these are non-overlapping.
The Antarctic Treaty, Article IV § 2 states:
“No acts or activities taking place while
the present Treaty is in force shall
constitute a basis for asserting, supporting
or denying a claim to territorial
sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or
enlargement of an existing claim, to
territorial sovereignty shall be asserted
while the present Treaty is in force”.
So the Antarctic Treaty does not suspend or
defer existing claims, though it does state
- No activities occurring after 1961
can be the basis of a territorial claim.
- No new claim can be made.
- No claim can be enlarged.
Practically though territorial claims
have been effectively suspended since 1961.
Image used courtesy
license via Wikimedia Commons