Geographically speaking, Antarctica is very far from Switzerland. But the country is concerned by this continent in many ways. An article from Presence Switzerland, the governement’s entity competent for the image of Switzerland abroad.
The Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) is an example of the Swiss bottom-up research approach. It is the result of an initiative of passionate and dedicated individuals who collaborate with Swiss research institutions. The Swiss Government is pleased to support such initiatives.
The SPI is a typical illustration of a research platform initiated and led in Switzerland. It brings together research excellence from all around the world with the objective to enhance scientific knowledge.
Science has no borders.
Switzerland – a polar nation?
Switzerland, a landlocked country in the heart of Europe, is far away from the poles. Yet Swiss scientists are among the world leaders in the field of polar research. At first glance this might seem astonishing. However, glaciers, ice and snow have had a significant impact on life and landscape in Switzerland and have brought forward excellent Swiss high altitude research – which in its characteristics and application has a very close relationship with polar research. In fact, research in regions of high altitude and high latitudes is mutually beneficial.
Switzerland is more than chocolate…
Switzerland is often associated with cheese, banks, mountains, watches or chocolate. But Switzerland is more than that. One of the lesser known characteristics is its distinct pioneering spirit. For example Solar Impulse, the first solar airplane to circumnavigate the world without a drop of fossil fuel, is an idea born in Switzerland. The inauguration of the Gotthard base tunnel, the world’s longest railway tunnel (57,1km) in 2016, further illustrates Switzerland’s drive for innovation.
Switzerland was ranked first in both the 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report and the Global Innovation Index 2015. Paradoxically, the Swiss government has no innovation strategy. Yet the lack of a top-down directive might very well be a driving factor behind Switzerland’s highly innovative community.
In its research funding policy, the Swiss Government grants institutions the freedom to decide the kind of research they want to conduct based on their competences and strengths. The Government’s objective is to create the best research conditions for the community and to stimulate the competition among the institutions and companies. Switzerland’s attractiveness relies mainly on the quality of research infrastructure, the freedom of research, the independence provided to scientists and its open research culture.
This pioneering spirit and the drive for innovation form the foundation of Switzerland’s expertise in polar research.
Swiss excellence in polar research
Landlocked Switzerland began exploring the poles in the 19th century. Since then the Swiss science community actively participates in multinational collaborations and international science programs. Switzerland has become a world leader in the field of polar research.
In 1912, the Swiss meteorologist and polar researcher Alfred de Quervain led a team of explorers across the Greenland ice sheet for the first time from West to East.
The Mertz Glacier in East Antarctica, one of the research stops of Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), is named after Swiss researcher Xavier Mertz.
In 1990, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research, in collaboration with ETH Zürich, set up the research station “Swiss Camp” in western Greenland.
With the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), the SPI carries out its first project with the mission to understand the Earth’s poles better and to be a platform for international polar researchers. Switzerland is a firm supporter of such initiatives.
International scientific collaboration and information exchange are the foundation of the governance of Antarctica. Scientific facts are often fundamental for policy development and rulemaking in domestic and international settings.
Science has no borders.
Switzerland’s commitment towards Antarctica
The Antarctic Treaty System entered into force in 1961 and regulates international relations with respect to Antarctica, earth’s only continent without a native human population. The treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on the continent. As of today, the treaty includes 53 parties, with Switzerland joining in 1990.
The Antarctic Treaty stipulates that Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only, thus dedicating an entire continent to scientific research and international cooperation. Results from Antarctic research shall be exchanged and made widely available. The first project of the Swiss Polar Institute underlines and strengthens these endeavors.
Switzerland’s involvement in the polar regions is part of its foreign policy objectives: Swiss science diplomacy endeavors to open doors for our researchers abroad, to contribute to the worldwide promotion of Swiss expertise in research and innovation and to create new scientific cooperation schemes worldwide.
Both the Antarctic Treaty and the Arctic Council embody objectives shared by Swiss foreign policy; namely to actively contribute to stability and peace in the world.
Science has no borders.