My next expedition will be an exploration on the southern Ocean aboard the POLAR POD, a manned oceanographic platform designed to drift around Antarctica in the « furious fifties ».

Jean-Louis Etienne

The expedition

In the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Ocean is not partitioned by continents; it’s an open ocean that circulates around Antarctica. Driven by the westerlies, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (CCA) brings together the three oceans, the Indian, the Pacific and the Atlantic.

At the other end of the world, this huge ocean is still unknown, oceanographic campaigns are rare. A major player in the climate and marine biodiversity reserve, the international scientific community is unanimous: we need in situ measurements.

To explore this ocean of storm, which sailors call the « furious fifties », the naval engineering office SHIP ST of Lorient designed the POLAR POD.

Driven by the circumpolar current, like a satellite around Antarctica, POLAR POD will allow the acquisition of data and long-term observations that will be transmitted to researchers, oceanographers, climatologists, biologists; 43 scientific institutions from 12 countries are involved in the project.

This expedition worthy of Jules Verne, will animate in real time a large international educational project on the Life Sciences of the Earth and the Environment in collaboration with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (UICN). Young people need dreams, models of audacity, incentive commitments, to believe in their ambitions.

The Polar Pod

The question was: what type of ship can provide comfort at work and safety in « furious fifties » throughout the year? To escape the bustle of the waves one needs a ship with a strong draft, caught in deep stable waters, and a small surface at the impact of the waves. The POLAR POD is inspired by FLIP, the US oceanographic platform, still active after 60 years in the service of research. On the same principle, the POLAR POD will be towed horizontally to the study area and tilted vertically by filling seawater ballast tanks.

Technical specifications of the polar pod

This platform, which is 100 meters high and weighs 1,000 tons, is sized to tackle the biggest waves in the world. The legs of the lattice are made of steel from 38 to 50 mm thick. Bottom ballast weighs 150 tons. The structure of the nacelle is made of aluminum and the outer shell made of special steel to handle the most violent storms. The construction is certified by Bureau Veritas.

Illustration : Sylvain Bergeon

Illustration : Laurent Hindryckx

Zero emission

The Polar POD is an ecological vessel. Trained by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, it will have a very limited impact on the environment. The nacelle located 15 m above the surface is equipped to accommodate 8 people with 6 months of autonomy. Habitat with “positive energy” thanks to the performance of thermal insulation. To supply scientific equipment, lighting, telecommunications, IT, seawater desalination, hot water and cooking, electricity generation will be provided by 4 Kingspan wind turbines of 3.2 kW and photovoltaic cells. It is stored in two packs of lithium-ion batteries of 50 kWh each. The POLAR POD is “zero emission ship”.

Very stable at sea

The POLAR POD is much more stable and comfortable than a traditional ship. With a draft of 75 meters, this “vertical vessel” is very stable: 5 ° heel in the mean time of the Southern Ocean and a vertical movement that does not exceed 10% of the height of the waves. The architecture is designed not to resonate with the swell. Its heave period, from bottom to top, is 60 seconds while the swell of the great South is close to 20 seconds.

Scientific Program

In its drift, the POLAR POD will follow the flow and vortices of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Without motorization it is a silent ship. Thanks to its stability it does not disturb the surface of the sea nor the surrounding air. For all these reasons this platform is specially adapted for :

  • Air / Ocean exchange measurements, in particular CO2, to evaluate its role on the climate,
  • Wave dynamics,
  • Monitoring and studies of eddies of the current,
  • Plankton collections and evaluation of the impact of acidification,
  • Acoustic inventory of marine fauna: marine mammals, krill, and ocean floor noise,
  • Validation at sea of satellite measurements: color of the ocean wave height, wind speed and current … ,
  • Aerosol measurements and their sources,
  • Aerial observation of marine life, whales, seabirds …

The circumpolar drift

In orbit around Antarctica, the Polar POD, trained by the Circumpolar Current, will make the “world tour” between 50 ° and 55 ° S. This circumnavigation of 24 000 km, at the average speed of 1 knot (1.8 km / h) should last 2 years. Subject to headwinds and adverse currents, the Polar POD will not follow a straight line. With its sails and a transverse propeller at 10 m below the waterline, it has the ability to bend its course to get away from icebergs.

Crew relays and refueling

Crews will be surveyed every 2 months using a ship, offshore supply type, which will be permanently assigned to the mission. It will leave the nearest port to join the POLAR POD on its drift course on the 3 oceans.

—– Drift course of POLAR POD
—– Boat trip for crew relays

scientific equipment

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current

A major player in the climate

24,000 km long and 1000 km wide, it is the most powerful current on the planet. Driven by legendary winds, the famous « furious fiftieths », nothing stops its swell around Antarctica.

The biological activity is intense and it is an immense refuge of sea birds and marine mammals.

Its cold waters absorb a large part of the CO2 emitted by human activities

True transmission belt, it connects the waters of the oceans, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific with the cold waters of Antarctica

It helps to isolate the cold of the Antarctic continent from mid-latitude heat flows

It is the main source of formation of the deep waters of the World Ocean. Frost and thaw periods near Antarctica fuel deep-water formation