Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition

ACE was the first project carried out by the newly created Swiss Polar Institute (SPI). From December 2016 to March 2017, scientific teams from all over the world took part in this ground-breaking expedition aboard the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov. From biology to climatology to oceanography, the researchers worked in a number of interrelated fields as they sought to expand our understanding of the White Continent.

ACE’s starting point was Cape Town, South Africa. During the Akademik Treshnikov’s pre-expedition voyage from Bremerhaven, Germany, to Cape Town in November 2016, the ship hosted the ACE Maritime University under the auspices of the Russian Geographical Society. During this voyage, some 50 up-and-coming scientists attended onboard lectures and engaged in oceanographic work.

The SPI was founded by EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), ETH Zurich, the University of Bern and Editions Paulsen. It was designed to enhance international relations and scientific collaborations and to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists and explorers in polar research.

A broad range of disciplines

In order to foster an interdisciplinary culture, ACE drew on the skills and know-how of scientists representing a broad range of disciplines. The SPI believes that this approach is the best way to understand Antarctica and its role in current and future climate issues and their impact on our planet.

Today, scientific progress depends more than ever on collaboration between diverse scientific domains. Polar studies are no exception. For example, marine biology depends on complex mathematical models currently being developed by oceanographers; and greater insight into the important role of microorganisms in atmospheric change can help climatologists make more accurate weather predictions.

A better understanding of Antarctica is critical, not just for its future, but for that of the entire planet. The poles are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth. They also play a fundamental role in the strong ocean currents between the poles and the equator that regulate the world’s climate.

ACE in figures

  • Samples taken: 26,637
  • Data-collection opportunities: 3,106 in 96 different places
  • Liters of water collected with the rosette (an instrument for analysing ocean water): 3,916
  • Number of Agassiz trawls: 64
  • Number of radiosondes released: 90
  • Number of helicopter hours flown in 19 flying days: 107
  • Number of landings in 14 different locations: 494
  • Kilometers travelled: 33,565
  • Number of researchers on the first leg: 75, of which 54 scientists
  • Number of researchers on the second leg: 80, of which 55 scientists
  • Number of researchers on the third leg: 80, of which 55 scientists
  • Number of researchers participating in all three legs: 31, of which 16 scientists
  • Number of researchers participating in two of three legs: 14, of which 12 scientists
  • Total number of researchers 159
  • Number of research institutions represented: 73
  • Number of countries represented on board (scientists only): 23
  • Crew of Akademik Treshnikov: 60
  • Number of island groups visited: 12

Some facts and important firsts

  • ACE is the first expedition to do such a journey for science for at least 60 years
  • Microplastics were discovered all around Antarctica, even in the most remote areas.
  • This was the first scientific expedition of this size in at least 60 years.
  • Samples were taken up to 3,000 meters below the ice.
  • The air on the continent turned out to be cleaner than air in laboratory cleanrooms.
  • 3D models were made of Young, Buckle and Sabrina Islands (part of the Balleny Islands).
  • Ice cores were taken on Young, Siple, Peter I and Bouvet Islands.