The Ice Memory Law and Governance Chair

Ice Memory

The Ice Memory initiative raises multiple legal issues, most of them unprecedented, and on which no clear answers can be given under existing international law.   

Questions arise in the area of heritage ice cores collected in different countries around the world, their long-term preservation in an Antarctic sanctuary, the protection of reference data and, more broadly, the international governance of the Ice Memory heritage. 

Specific topics must be addressed:

  • What is the legal status of the glaciers from which the cores are extracted? 

  • Who owns the ice cores drilled by the Ice Memory scientific teams? 

  • Can the scientific heritage be comprised of ice cores as well as of its yielded data be given the status of common heritage of humanity?  

  • How will the international Ice Memory initiative be governed in the long term?

The Ice Memory Law and Governance Chair aims to establish proposals for filling existing legal gaps and to propose a legal framework for the development of the Ice Memory heritage, notably: 

  • the status of glaciers as natural and cultural heritage, 

  • the legal status of ice cores and their yielded information as scientific heritage and potential common heritage of humanity, 

  • the status and governance of the Antarctica Ice Memory ice cores sanctuary, 

  • a treaty proposal to improve the international legal framework and ensure international governance of the Ice Memory heritage.

The Chair is coordinated by the Law Research Center (Centre de Recherches Juridiques) of Grenoble Alpes University and headed by Sabine Lavorel, Assistant Professor in International Law (UGA / CRJ), specialized in Environmental and Climate International Law. The IM Chair is supported by the Ice Memory Foundation for the 2023-2026 period, thanks to our majors donors.

A contributive and international Chair to join


- The Chair will coordinate a network of international researchers and legal experts in scientific heritage, international law as well as diplomatic issues. Monthly workshops will be organized from January to May 2024 : 1 hour/ 1 topic / 1 expert around 3 themes : Scientific heritage, Scientific sampling, and Preservation of scientific Collections.

- The chair is supervised by an international scientific committee, aiming at ensuring the scientific follow-up of the chair's work, and composed of Mrs. Marie CORNU, Director of Research, CNRS (France), Mr. Peter Bille LARSEN, University of Geneva (Switzerland) and Prof. Fabrizio MARRELLA, Ca’Foscari University (Italy).

  • Heritage : The aim here is to address the definitional aspects of the different categories of heritage currently studied (natural, cultural, scientific), as well as the legal qualifications that can be applied to them (common heritage of mankind and UNESCO world heritage). The purpose is to highlight the various qualifications that can be applied to the IM project, and the legal and political stakes involved in its implementation.

  • Preservation : The main question raised in this theme will be how to preserve the "memory of the Earth", particularly in the context of scientific heritage collections. In particular, we will analyze the modalities of ex-situ conservation, aimed at protecting the scientific heritage from external factors such as climate change, conflict, or man's abusive use of its natural resources. It will also be interesting to confront the hypotheses where conservation can represent a danger, and finally consider the possibility of conservation in Antarctica, "land of science".

  • Sampling and collecting : We need to highlight the various issues that may arise when sampling and collecting scientific material, whether or not it constitutes a scientific heritage. These affiliated issues may cover as many realities as collecting in places benefiting from specific regimes or spiritual ties (zone / Antarctic / sacred territories...), the monetization of resources, particularly since the implementation of the CBD, or the question of leaving the national territory of origin.

    Our workshops

    Bi-monthly workshops will be organized from January 2024.


1. The concepts of ‘UNESCO World Heritage’ and ‘Common Heritage of Mankind’: what's the point?
▪ General questioning: What are the content, scope and stakes of these two concepts?
▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: Is it possible and, if so, useful to confer on the Ice Memory ice cores the status of common heritage of mankind, or UNESCO World Heritage?
2. Ownership of scientific heritage: reasonable doubts or false certainties?
▪ General questioning: What is scientific heritage? How is the ownership of a scientific heritage established (collection, creation, donation, purchase...)? How are collected scientific samples acquired? Is there a difference in the status of scientific samples depending on who owns them (museum, university, foundation, company, etc.)?
▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: Do the Ice Memory ice cores belong to their collectors, as part of their scientific assets?
3. The concept of cultural, natural and scientific heritage: scope and challenges?
▪ General questioning: What is the status of cultural, natural and scientific heritage under international, European and French law? How effective its protection?
▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: Should Ice Memory ice cores be protected as cultural, natural or scientific heritage?


4. Collecting scientific samples: which constraints? which liabilities?
▪ General questioning: What are the political and legal constraints on scientific sampling abroad (diplomatic, administrative, academic, customary constraints, etc.)? How can we avoid or limit the risks that collecting samples might pose to the original natural environment? What is the responsibility of scientists in the event of deterioration of the original environment?
▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: Are glaciers just like any other scientific sampling sites?
5. Collecting scientific samples: what is at stake for local populations?
▪ General questioning: Are scientific sampling activities subject to the FPIC principle (free, prior and informed consent) recognized by international law for local populations, particularly indigenous peoples? How can scientific benefits be shared with local populations?
▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: When drilling on a glacier, how can scientists consider the importance of the glacier for local cultures? Can local populations benefit from the research carried out on ice cores?


SAMPLES 6. Protecting scientific collections and archives
▪ General questioning: What is a scientific collection? What are the different types of collections (heritage, study, educational, secondary, etc.) at national and international level? What are the status and regime applicable to the scientific collections of a research laboratory or university? What are the differences between scientific collections and scientific archives?
▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: Do the Ice Memory ice cores constitute a collection? If so, what type of collection is it? Do they constitue archives? If not, what is the legal status of these cores as a whole?
7. Preserving scientific samples: what kind of procedures? What kind of liabilities?
▪ General questioning: What are the legal obligations and responsibilities when it comes to conserving scientific samples and collections? How can the integrity of the scientific heritage be preserved? Should conservation be in situ or ex situ? How can the environment in which the samples are stored be protected from potential hazards ?
▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: Do ice cores constitute a potential danger for their conservation environment (particularly in Antarctica)? In line with the current trend towards in situ conservation, shouldn't we consider hybrid conservation in Antarctica and in sampling sites (wherever possible)? Who is responsible for any deterioration of the samples or of the environment in which they are stored?
8. Governance of international scientific collections
▪ General questioning: What type of international governance applies to scientific collections aimed at preserving the "memory of the Earth" (e.g. seed banks, gene banks, etc.)? What are the advantages and limitations of these modes of governance? ▪ Questioning specific to Ice Memory: Could the governance mechanisms currently used for gene or seed banks (or other) be applied to Ice Memory ice cores?


Sabine Lavorel :
Théo Abadie :

Sabine Lavorel



Sabine Lavorel is Assistant Professor in Public Law at the University of Grenoble Alpes (UGA) and member of the Legal Research Center.

She is specialized in international public law and environmental law; her research interests include environmental heritage protection, environmental responsibility, polar law and climate justice. She has led several collaborative research projects, the latest of which focuses on the legal protection of carbon sinks. In addition to her publications on these topics, she created and currently supervises the Diploma in Environmental Law (DU de Droit de l'Environnement) at UGA's Faculty of Law, and has helped set up multidisciplinary training courses on ecological transitions. In 2022, she played an active role in the Grenoble-Alpes Métropole Citizens' Climate Convention, co-chairing the Convention's operational committee over the year. She is still very much involved in monitoring the implementation of the citizens' recommendations by local authorities. Since 2020, she has also been co-director of UGA's Doctoral School of Legal Sciences.

Théo Abadie has been recruited as a PhD student for the Ice Memory Chair. Théo holds a master’s degree in International Law and a University diploma in Environmental Law. His PhD thesis deals with the status of scientific heritage, and focuses on the case of scientific samples, including ice cores.
Published on  October 11, 2023
Updated on October 31, 2023