Sanctuary in Antarctica

Ice Memory Sanctuary 
Building of the Ice Memory Sanctuary at Concordia station - Antarctica © Rocco Ascione / PNRA - French Polar Institute

The heritage ice cores will all need to be stored on a long-term basis at one of the international bases in Antarctica under common ethical governance and technical Ice Memory Foundation rules.

A dedicated snow cave will be built at the French-Italian Concordia station, the only international station on the Antarctic Plateau. The station is operated by both the French Polar Institute and the PNRA and allows natural storage at -50°C.

This sanctuary will be open to all international teams.

The Ice Memory Sanctuary at Concordia station will rely on an innovative solution combining the hardness of existing rigid infrastructures and the environmental friendliness of natural snow arches.
Design studies conducted by the French and Italian polar logistical agencies, together with additional support from scientists at IGE (Grenoble, France), had led to a design proposition combining the snow natural material together with strengthened infrastructures, in order to provide the longest possible lifetime to the repository, while limiting the impact of the construction on the Antarctic environment, in accordance with the Madrid Protocol.

Despite the added complexity caused by transporting the heritage cores to Antarctica, this strategic choice is essential for several fundamental reasons:
  • It offers guaranteed long-term preservation of the samples using 100% ‘natural’ storage with no energy consumption required for refrigeration, thus protecting the precious samples from any risk of disruption to refrigeration (technical problems, economic crisis, conflict, acts of terrorism, etc.).
  • The structured management of these unique samples, combined with restrictive Antarctic logistics which prevent overly easy access to the raw material.
  • Storage at an international station on international land, managed via a treaty signed by the world’s major nations and on which land claims are frozen.

Principles of the long term governance:

  • Heritage should be owned by humanity, not by a nation, individual or organization.
  • Transfer to an international organization in 20 years to ensure governance for the decades and centuries to come: Antarctic Treaty/Unesco.
  • Heritage cores must be available to scientists in the future only on scientific criteria and impact for humanity and not on geopolitical criteria.

Concordia station

Concordia is located at an altitude of 3,233 m on the High Antarctic Plateau (1,100 km from the nearest coast and 2,500 km from the geographic South Pole). The average temperature there is -54°C, dropping to as low as -84°C in winter. Despite the site being remote and isolated, the existing logistics chain and the exceptional stability of the temperature 10 metres below the firn (around -54°C, reached naturally throughout the year) make it an ideal location for storage of the ice samples in order to protect the climate records.
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Published on  October 11, 2019
Updated on March 7, 2024