Antarctica by sailboat:

Delineating responses of southern Ocean ecosystems to climate change

On February 15th, 9 Belgian researchers will set sail for Antarctica. Led by Bruno Danis, researcher at the Marine Biology Laboratory of the ULB Faculty of Sciences, they will leave Ushuaïa (Argentina) and arrive in the Antarctic Peninsula (Grandidier Channel), during the month of March. Originality of the mission: the researchers will be using a sailboat as a research platform! This mode of transport has a limited environmental impact and will allow, thanks to its agility, to reach understudied areas.

Australis: The commercial vessel Australis of Benjamin Wallis is parked in front of a gentle sloped glacier in the Skontorp Bay. Credits: Francesca Pasotti.

The aim of the “TANGO1” mission is to observe the responses of Antarctic marine ecosystems to climate change, particularly at shallow depths. As climatic changes are prominent and intensifying in polar regions, dramatic shifts in structure and function of ecosystems may take place and will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. The ongoing debate at the level of the IPCC and SCAR highlights the lack of knowledge on different thresholds and different ecosystem states, their habitability and stability, and whether they are true alternate states of the same system. It is also unclear to what extent transition points are thresholds, while this knowledge is crucial in ecosystem management to sustain habitability in the long term in a context of global change and for the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of the natural environment. By investigating ecological thresholds at different levels of organization, including species, species interactions, populations, processes and functions, and whole ecosystems with a focus on the benthos (organisms living in strict contact with the seafloor), TANGO aims at identifying not only the requirements of habitability, but also the factors that undermine habitability such as the imbalance of the carbon cycle.The researchers will therefore carry out detailed works on biodiversity in different realms, by combining a range of techniques (SCUBA diving, drones deployments, remote-controlled submersible, 3D imaging, isotopic and genetic studies).

This expedition is part of the BRAIN-BE “TANGO” project, funded by BELSPO.

The mission will last until March 19 (return to Belgium). 

More information:

2022 Polar Symposium


The Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO), the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations, the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) and the Belgian National Committee of (Ant)Arctic Research (BNCAR)


22 September 2022


Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels, Rue Vautier 29, 1000 Brussels


Polar regions are some of the most vulnerable areas on Earth. While anthropogenic warming impacts the whole planet, the Arctic region has been warming almost four times as fast in recent decades. Changes at the poles have local and global implications and are intertwined with biodiversity, the cornerstone of healthy and resilient ecosystems. Science is crucial for building a foundation to understand how our lives are impacted by climate change and what we can do to slow or reverse changes.

Belgian polar research plays an active and leading role on the international scene. The Polar Symposium highlights Belgian polar research and the scientific and policy fora associated with it. Presentations will cover climate, ice, geology, space, terrestrial biology, anthropology and health, ocean, marine biology and Belgian research facilities, complemented by contributions from leading polar organisations and prominent political speakers.


8:30 – 9:10: Registration

9:10 – 9:20:  Welcome and opening

Minister Zakia Khattabi (Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and the Green Deal)

9:20 – 9:30: Scientific opening

Renuka Badhe (Executive Secretary of the EU Polar Board)

9:30 – 9:55: Climate

Nicole Van Lipzig, Alexander Mangold

9:55 – 10:20: Ice

François Massonnet, Xavier Fettweis

10:20 – 10:40: SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research)

Frank Pattyn

10:40 – 11:00: Coffee break

11:05 – 11:30: Geology

Steven Goderis, Nicolas Bergeot

11:30 – 11:55: Space

Simona Toscano, Hervé Lamy

11:55 – 12:15: ATCM (Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting)

Stéphanie Langerock, Annick Wilmotte

12:15 – 13:15: Lunch

13:15 – 13:25 Association for Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS)

Marie Cavitte

13:25 – 13:50 Terrestrial Biology

Elie Verleyen, Anne Willems

13:50 – 14:15 Anthropology and Health

Nathalie Pattyn, Frédéric Laugrand

14:15-14:35 International Arctic Science Committee (IASC)

Philippe Huybrechts

14:35 – 15:00 Ocean

François Fripiat, Bruno Delille

15:00 – 15:20 Coffee break

15:20 – 15:45 Marine Biology

Ann Vanreusel, Anton Van de Putte

15:45 – 16:10 Belgian research facilities: Research Vessel Belgica & Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station.

Lieven Naudts,  Henri Robert

16:10 – 16:30 Keynote speech European Commission DG for Research and Innovation

Szilvia Nemeth 

16:30 – 16:40 Closing

State Secretary Thomas Dermine

(Economic Recovery and Strategic Investments, in charge of Science Policy)

16:40 – 16:55 Closing remarks

Jean-Louis De Brouwer

(Director of the European Affairs Programme at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations)

Blog 1: Back to the Future

Four thousand kilometers separate us from our destination. After almost 6 hours flight from Cape Town, TOUCH DOWN! We have landed in Perseus (59 Km from the station). It is the first time a ‘gigamongus’ (as my daughter would say) cargo/passenger airplane lands here. It is a Russian “Ilyushin” 76 plane that has no window where people seat one next to each other against the walls of the plane.

For the past two weeks, many people did not rest doing all kind of hard works to have Perseus’s runway absolutely impeccable for today, ‘the big day’. Even cameras from the French TV are recording the event. The feeling of getting off the plane is indescribable. Breathtaking. For the second time, I have the chance to see this cloudless and vibrant blue sky. The snow and ice are a foam of white and, breathing the cleanest and freshest air in the planet it feels like a nice privilege.

From here we have another short (in distance) but long (in time) drive to the station. We are 17. Among scientists there are also carpenters, engineers and a firefighter. 20 people are already in the station waiting for us with a warm and comfy welcoming meal. Subdivided into three groups we begin our slow and bumpy trip with the Toyota Hilux. It is almost midnight, we have seen the sun hidden behind the mountains for some minutes and raising again. Five km left and shining like a diamond, there she is! The devastatingly beautiful zero emission Belgian Princess Elisabeth Antarctica (PEA) station. And yes it feels like ‘Back to the Future’ because we are standing in front of what it is an immense example that the goodwill and collaboration between everyone as a society, including public and private sectors and countries makes everything possible. We can’t forget PEA station is a polar facility that entirely operates with renewable energies: 48% by wind turbines and 52% by solar panels. It also has a water treatment unit with two bioreactors and filtration units. And here I quote the Chief Commander, Alain Hubert, who since day 1 says: “If we can do it here in Antarctica, in such a remote area, it is possible to do it everywhere else.” For me, a clear example of what a better FUTURE could be if we, all around the globe, start by understanding that even the smallest changes make always a difference.


51st Liège colloquium on ocean dynamics: Polar oceans facing changes

6 to 10  May 2019

Place of the Conference: University of Liège – Place du XX-Août, 7 – 4000 Liège – Belgium

Polar oceans are facing profound changes. The Arctic Ocean and the waters west of the Antarctic Peninsula are at the forefront of global warming, while the rest of the polar oceans will face changes in the very near future. The changes to face are not limited to a raise in atmospheric temperature and modification in the freshwater budget. Increases of economic activities (shipping, tourism, fisheries and mineral extraction), contaminants and invasive species also put polar oceans at risk. Changes are already witnessed in terms of ice shelves volume, wind patterns and precipitation, sea ice extent, ocean circulation, ocean acidification and freshening, primary productivity, biodiversity and community structure or ecosystem functioning. As polar oceans are key components of the Earth system, changes there will have global impacts such as sea level rise, changes in low latitudes oceanic productivity, and oceanic CO2 uptake, among other ecosystem services.
The 51st Liège colloquium on ocean dynamics will address the observation and prediction of these changes and their consequences.

More specifically, the following topics will be covered:

  • Measuring anthropogenic impact and pollutants. This spans from measurement of physical parameters, trace contaminants, inventory of climate related gases, micro plastics measurement, bio-indicators, monitoring economic activities
  • Observing changes. Remote sensing is key to monitor sea ice and ice sheet shrinkage, ocean warming and freshening, changes in ocean circulation and environmental forcing. In parallel, several initiatives (e.g. AMAP, SOOS, SOCCOM, ASPeCt, ANTOS, INTAROS, SAON, CAFF, BEPSII among others) have developed to reinforce monitoring of the polar oceans and provide insights on current changes
  • Assessing impacts. Anthropogenic forcing are impacting physical processes and biogeochemistry but also biodiversity and foodweb functioning. Tracking changes in an evolutionary perspective is challenging
  • Specific cryosphere-oceans interaction. At the interface between land and polar oceans, ocean interactions with ice sheets and sea ice are key in controlling ice-sheet balance, sea level rise and water mass transformation rates
  • Enlarge our temporal perspective: paleo-oceanographic changes. Ocean sediment records provide paleoclimate proxy indicators of past changes. These benchmarks allow a better grasp on current changes in term of level, significance and rapidity
  • Predicting future changes. Modeling is a major tool to understand past and present changes and to predict future changes from a local to a global perspective. More specifically, simple ocean model, ice sheet or sea ice- ocean coupled model, biogeochemical model, dynamic energy budget, species/trait distribution model among others are well suited to investigate changes in polar oceans.
  • Teleconnection and global perspective. As a result of the teleconnection of polar oceans to the global ocean, changes in polar oceans can propagate more globally. Assessing such impacts is critical to understand actual and future changes of the global ocean
  • Mitigation. Several tools can be used to mitigate or limit the impact of some anthropogenic pressures: enforcement of conservation measures, marine protected areas, sewage treatment, education and awareness raising that need to be further developed to tackle polar ocean changes.

Special sessions on dedicated projects are welcome.

Papers dealing with the above-described subject are welcome and will be published in a special issue.Further details (submission, registration, deadlines, venue, …) are available on the web site :

Deadline: Submission of abstracts – 1st March 2019


[Free entrance] Belgium and Antarctica… Researchers’ views

Archives Antarctiques Belges – Belgische Antarctische Archieven (AABBAA – asbl) and APECS Belgium are proud to present a conference evening where researchers share their findings and experiences in Antarctica!

Belgium and Antarctica… Researchers’ views
21 March 2018 (Wednesday)
Campus Solbosch, ULB Building D Local DC2.223
Open to public and FREE of charge!

AABBAA is a non-profit organization which gathers archives on Belgian Antarctic expeditions. Please join us for this great initiative!

original announcement

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From B120 to B121: a team is born

The Belgica120 crew left Ushuaia on Feb the 25th, around 10 am, next stop Antarctica. After finalising the last details, going through the initial briefings and getting the Australis ready, we set sails out of the Beagle Channel, towards the Melchior Islands along the Antarctic Peninsula.
The initial timing was set to an initial 12 hours to get to Cape Horn, then 2.5 days to cross the Drake Passage to the Peninsula. Everything was going fine, we were getting familiar with the boat (and with sea sickness) and steaming at 8 knots towards the South. On the second day of navigation, something went wrong with the engine’s gearbox (there was a big “bang” and rumble, like a rolling bag of bolts), and we had to stop the engine, after approximately 1/3 of the distance. The Australis is a 50/50 boat: it is designed to steam using to propulsions modes: engine and sails. Without the engine, Australis cannot be manoeuvred precisely, and the general design of the boat (shape of the hull and sails) does not allow here to sail close to the wind.
After stopping the engine, Ben and Simon (the captain and first mate of Australis) started investigating the mechanics and tried to find a solution to fix the gearbox. Unfortunately, it was impossible: the part that snapped was a shaft inside the gearbox. Ben called me to the wheelhouse to inform me there was no way they could fix the problem at sea. Simon and Kari (our cook) were there as well. There was this dreadful moment of silence, as I realised we were in an actually delicate situation. We were well engaged in the Drake Passage, our engine was useless, and we could only rely on our sails to turn back to Ushuaia. At this moment, the wind was in the right direction. We swiftly decided to tack, set all sails and head north. At the same time we decided to inform all ships around us that we would probably need assistance in a reasonable delay. I informed the team about the situation, and that we would probably have to delay our attempt. There was a big disappointment of course, especially given the amount of effort that went into preparing this expedition, and the high hopes we all had… but there was not much more to do than accept the situation and work our way out of the Drake.
The other “detail” we were worried about was the weather: strong winds were announced to hit us in a couple of days.
Under sails, with the wind strong enough and in the right direction, Australis made an amazing job. She was actually sailing at 8 knots in 25 knots of wind. But we couldn’t get closer than 60 degrees in the wind. Thanks to her speed we beat the storm, which passed behind us: one problem less.
Meanwhile we managed to get in touch, by radio, with an Argentinian navy vessel, the Puerto Argentino, who confirmed they would give us a tow, as soon as they cached up with us (they were about 100 nm behind when we first contacted them). So the situation was more or less under control. A few sailboats passed us on our way to the North, always making contact to make sure we were alright. Our situation was never critical, nobody felt unsafe at any moment. On our way back, we had many contacts, including also with a Chilean Navy ship, the Sibbald. They offered to escort us up to the coastline. We didn’t really understand the purpose of that offer, as we were in need of a tow, before the situation became actually dangerous.
The wind was now coming from the North, and we were making extremely slow progress. If we didn’t get a tow, it would take us days to get back. The more time we spend at sea, the higher the chances we get hit by bad weather.
At this point we were about 30 nm East of Cape Horn. The Puerto Argentino had catched up with us, in the morning of the 28th of February. After some contacts with the vessel to coordinate the towing manoeuvre, which is always risky, the navy ship sent us a towing cable, which we successfully attached to the bollard. This was a great relief for me, until about 3’ later, the captain called us on the radio to inform us he had received the order not to tow us and let go the cable. At first I thought I was dreaming alive. I couldn’t believe this nonsense. Why would they let us go after risking a manoeuvre to start the tow, knowing we could never make our way back to safety? Two extremely tense, nerve-wearing hours started: we were trying to save time, hoping we would at least be towed over a reasonable distance, but the navy ship was just staying in place, probably on purpose. Ben was trying to call everyone he could to unlock the situation, so that the captain would get the authorisation to tow us. We also tried to call our networks in the area to get things moving. But the captain of the Puerto Argentino kept insisting on the radio that we should let go the tow cable. He sounded more and more nervous as the Chilean Navy vessel was approaching. Our nerves were worn, and we finally let go the cable, despite the fact that we didn’t get the point. As the Puerto Argentino left us behind, we got in touch with the Sibbald, which was now very close, and which again offered to escort us. We didn’t set the sails, and let ourselves drift to make a clear point that we couldn’t manoeuvre to safety. After about 10 minutes, they contacted us on the radio and offered a tow. Instead of being relieved, I was still wondering what kind of last minute trick would happen to us. But everything went well apart that the Sibbald was going to let us go somewhere in the Beagle Channel, as we were getting close to the Argentinian border.
Ben arranged a pickup by a tugboat from Ushuaia, and after a few more hours of towing we were safely brought back to our dock.
During the whole process, we had some time to think about how we could turn this into something positive. Even if its been a huge disappointment (and I think its safe to say especially for Ben and myself), the Belgica120 expedition was a first attempt. Its an expedition, and its Antarctica. We’ve learnt a lot during these few days, about the Australis, about ourselves and about our future project. Thanks to the B120 team keeping very calm and positive, and moreover to the Australis crew for handling the situation with amazing skill, we got ourselves out of a situation which could have become critical.
We now have a year to prepare for our next attempt, which of course will go by the name of Belgica121… stay tuned, photos will follow.


After two days of traveling we have finally arrived in Ushuaia. Ben (our skipper) picked us up from the airport. Even though we were tired and exhausted, we went directly to the harbour and had a first look at the Australis, the ship we are going to call home for the next few weeks. Stowing away all our equipment and luggage was another challenge, however now is everything is packed and ready. Customs clearence tomorrow … planned departure on Sunday the 25th!!



Time is a relative thing. We left Belgium only 4 days ago – feels much longer with all that happened. Now, it accelerates again, throttle down and off: last dinner, shower, night, and right now breakfast on land. We got a security briefing yesterday already. Departure within the next hour. Approx. 8h until Cape Horn and then enter the Drake Passage. Drake lake or Drake shake? Either way, here we go!

Security Briefing

Belgica120-Buenos Peres

We arrived safely in Buenos Aires. After 14h of flight, the warmth and humidity of northern Argentina is giving us a brief respite before it is getting colder again. Having one day to our next flight (to Ushuaia), we are using the time to explore the city, having brief science meetings for some of us (Charlène) and generally stacking up on sun and warmth.

Belgica120-Checked in!

Some gear is already in Ushuaia, the remaining stuff is now ready for our flight from Paris. We checked it in already at the train station in Brussels. That was a good call – we did have a lot of extra bags and weight, especially due to all the diving equipment. My little bag has now a heavy lead belt on top. Hope nothing gets crushed… Next stop Buenos Aires!