On Tuesday 28 May 2013, at the occasion of the 36th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) hosted by Belgium, BELSPO signed an MoU with the Chilean Antarctic Institute (Instituto Antártico Chileno-INACH) to pursue scientific cooperation in Antarctic Research. The signing ceremony took place at the Embassy of Chile in the presence of Ambassador Appelgren.
Both INACH and BELSPO have several possibilities and assets with regard to the support of Antarctic research activities. BELSPO for example has initiated last year a new research programme BRAIN, covering a wide range of research topics also of interest to INACH: Glaciology and climatology; Microbial and Invertebrate biodiversity; Ecosystems response to Global Change and Antarctic information and data exchange. This programme offers the possibility to Belgian researchers to include a foreign researcher in their projects on the basis of a co-financing up to 50%. When integrated in the Belgian research network, BELSPO can also intervene in the campaign costs to the Belgian research station.
Even before the signature of this MoU, the collaboration between INACH and BELSPO has been put in practice.
A researcher from the microbiology lab in Liège has had the privilege to join a Chilean campaign to the Antarctic Peninsula last season (www.antarcticabelgium.blogspot.be).
And a Chilean glaciologist is involved in a BELSPO research project coordinated by the Free University of Brussels.
The signature of the MoU is the onset of the further successful development of collaboration between INACH and BELSPO.
With the establishment during the 1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY) of the Japanese Base Syowa and the Belgian Base Roi Baudouin in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, Belgium and Japan became neighbours. The distance separating the stations being some 600 km. During the time that both stations were operating simultaneously (from 1959 to 1967) Belgian expedition members visited Syowa station by means of aircraft in 1960 and Japanese expedition members visited Base Roi Baudouin by means of the icebreaker Fuji in 1966.
After the closure of Base Roi Baudouin in 1967, Japanese scientists extended their field operations and interest to the west covering the hinterland of Base Roi Baudouin (Sør Rondane Mountains), previously investigated and mapped by Belgian scientists. In order to prepare for these operations Japanese scientists (Dr. Shiraishi, National Institute of Polar Research, NIPR, Japan) contacted and consulted with Belgian scientists (inter alios Dr. T. Van Autenboer).
In 1984 Japan established Asuka station, situated at the front of the Sør Rondane Mountains and 170 km south of the former Base Roi Baudouin. The station was occupied from 1984 - 1991 serving as an observation post for atmospheric, upper atmospheric and geophysical observations and as an operating base for field investigations (geology, geomorphology, glaciology, biology, and mapping) in the Sør Rondane and surrounding ice cap. On three occasions Belgian scientists from the Free University of Brussels (VUB) under the guidance of Dr. H. Decleir, participated with the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE), i.e. during JARE 28 (1986-87), JARE 31 (1989-90) and JARE 32 (1990-91) to carry out glaciological observations in collaboration with Japanese glaciologists, geologists and geomorphologists. On a fourth occasion, during JARE 41 (1999-2000) the collaboration resulted in joint glaciological field work in the coastal area in the Lutzhow-Holm Bay close to the Japanese base Syowa. This field work was made possible thanks to the close collaboration with the respectively directors of the National Institute of Polar Research (Tokyo) and their leading scientists (Drs. Yoshida, Watanabe, Shiraishi, Fujii, Nishio, ...) but also with scientists from other universities, such as Dr. Matsuoka (University of Tsukuba), Dr. Hirakawa (University of Hokkaido), and Dr. Naruse (Institute of Low Temperature Sciences, Hokkaido University). The collaboration also resulted in a one year stay of a leading Belgian glaciologist (Dr. F. Pattyn) at the National Institute of Polar Research and in joint glaciological field work elsewhere (Altai Mountains, Russia and Brooks Range, Alaska).
The National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR, Japan) and BELSPO collaborate on meteorite research under the umbrella of the Statement signed in Tokyo in 2005 between the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Belgian Ministry of Economy, Energy, Foreign Trade and Science Policy.
In 2009, the NIPR and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB, Belgium) signed an agreement regarding the sharing of the meteorites collected by Japanese and Belgian scientists in Antarctica during the 51st Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE 51) in 2009-2010. The field work and scientific activities also included the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium).
Recognizing the successful collaboration in collecting meteorites in Antarctica during the past years, the NIPR, the VUB and the ULB wanted to expand their collaboration in the coming years, and to include the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS, Belgium), where the Belgian share of the meteorites is deposited for curation purposes.
At the occasion of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting (ATCM XXXVI) held in Brussels in May 2013, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on 25 May between the NIPR, the VUB, the ULB and the RBINS.
Proof of the successful collaboration between Japanese and Belgian researchers is the 18 kg meteorite, found by the team of 5 Belgian scientists from the VUB and ULB, and 3 Japanese researchers from the NIPR during the 2012-2013 expedition to the Nansen Ice Field in Antarctica.
This field mission, financed by BELSPO and NIPR was a real success. The team discovered 425 meteorites that are currently being inventoried. The meteorite that attracted most attention was the one of 18 kilogram. According to the Belgian scientists it concerns the largest specimen discovered in 25 years in East Antarctica. It is also the fifth heaviest ever discovered in this part of Antarctica of the 16,000 specimens already found.
This specimen is therefore without doubt exceptional because of its size. The meteorite belongs to the type "chondrite", that most often occurs on earth. It probably originates from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The meteorites collected through the Antarctic campaigns in the Sør Rondane Mountains in the JARE-51 mission and subsequent joint missions, will be shared evenly between Japan and Belgium.
A state of the art curation system for Antarctic meteorites has been installed at the RBINS, for the optimal conservation and preservation of the samples hosted at the RBINS and for providing national and international meteorite scientists access to the samples, establishing the RBINS as the Belgian reference curation centre for Antarctic meteorites.