BE-POLES workshop: a genuine success

Polar research can take all sorts of amazing twists and turns. But as odd as it may seem, all of it involves Belgian scientists directly and the study of the climate changes our Earth has been going through for hundreds of thousands of years. All this became clear during the BE-POLES workshop (23-25 March).

A genuine success! There are truly no other words to describe this three-day meeting about Belgian polar research organised at the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences by the Federal Scientific Policy and the International Polar Foundation as part of BE-POLES.

Two main conclusions can be drawn from this BE-POLES workshop. As far as scientists were concerned, their satisfaction was obvious. Most of Belgium's polar researchers (slightly less than 100 in total) were on hand at some stage of this inaugural event, with several of them attending all three days of the meeting. There were many interesting speakers who came to Brussels to address a high-calibre scientific audience over the first two days of presentations. The polar researchers seemed very much in favour of this "physical" networking, which is very positive, as the forthcoming international polar year will need to rely on their support.

Concerning the "public at large", one look inside the Institute's conference room on the Saturday showed just how many people had turned out to see what was on offer. A total of 120 participants were registered. There were plenty of questions at the end of each presentation, and lots to talk about during the coffee breaks.

Over the three days scientists had come from across Belgium, Europe and from other parts of the world to talk about the polar research they are involved in and how Belgian scientific institutions are contributing to advancing that research. A number of the speakers were interviewed by SciencePoles, the IPF's polar science website and these interviews will be posted progressively on the site in coming weeks. Interviews with leading scientists on a range of topics include:

  • What the ice-core record is revealing about the climate over the last 800,000 years - adding to well-known data about the last 400,000 - namely that there was a different rhythm to glacials and interglacials but that links between greenhouse gases and temperature were just as strong.
  • Neutrinos - possibly the key to our finding out more about what brings about some of the most cataclysmic astronomical events in the universe. Finding out about them depends on a new telescope being built beneath the Antarctic ice.
  • Climate-induced biodiversity in polar macro-benthic communities - there are big differences between what is going on in the Arctic and Antarctic eco-systems - and why it is important to consider the potential threat to their value as global resources.
  • How gathering more data from Antarctic sediments can help confirm (or not!) hypotheses about relationships between Antarctic ice extent and sea levels.
  • The psychology of overwintering in Antarctica.