World Environment Day: BNP Paribas renews its support for polar research

June 4, 2020

After an initial partnership cycle between the Swiss Polar Institute and the BNP Paribas Swiss Foundation to support young researchers from across the country between 2016 and 2018, the two entities have decided to renew their commitment for three more years.

The Polar Access Fund: a unique tool to support polar expeditions led by young researchers

Based at EPFL, the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) is a consortium of Swiss universities – the EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), ETH Zurich, the University of Bern and the University of Lausanne – and Editions Paulsen, created in 2016. The aim is to make Switzerland one of the key, unifying players in the field of extreme environments and polar research.

Following a successful first collaboration in 2016 in the context of the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition, the SPI and the BNP Paribas Swiss Foundation have decided to jointly create a support fund to enable young researchers from a range of disciplines to embark on their first polar expedition: the Polar Access Fund. All of the beneficiaries will be PhD students or young post-docs at a Swiss university studying an issue linked to climate change.

In addition to driving research forward, the PAF is the first tool in Switzerland to support this demographic of young researchers in their first expedition in the field. The beneficiaries have a lot to gain from this initiative. As well as receiving financial support, recipients will learn to plan an expedition, while simultaneously managing a budget and the logistical issues that arise from it, with support from SPI experts every step of the way.

Going to the ends of the earth to study the effects of climate change

To date, PAF has enabled 18 researchers and 8 Swiss research institutes to carry out expeditions in the field. The fact that 45% of beneficiaries were women was a resounding success for the project, since women are often underrepresented in natural sciences. Research fields include biology, paleoclimatology, atmospheric sciences, glaciology and many more. All of these disciplines complement one another and, as such, perfectly illustrate the complexity of climate change research.

To complete their research, all beneficiaries are alike in needing to visit the polar regions. However, this term covers a wide array of locations on the planet. While the Arctic and Greenland are often given as examples, there has been a lack of exploration in Antarctica because of the extreme weather seen there for large parts of the year. Lastly, while this is not common knowledge among the general public, the scientific community considers high-altitude regions such as the Himalayas and the Andes as the “Third Pole” – a vertical pole with endless glaciers. To prepare for what are sometimes extreme conditions, PAF researchers must follow a training regime before setting out.

A multi-disciplinary network propelled by the new generation

A genuine community has sprung up around this fund. As new beneficiaries are added each year (between 5 and 10), PAF researchers make up a multi-disciplinary network of individuals with a passionate interest in climate change. This network goes far beyond the borders of Switzerland. Without doubt, these young researchers demonstrate the growing global interest in the polar regions, which help to explain climate change.

” We are delighted that we are able to continue our collaboration with the BNP Paribas Swiss Foundation on the Polar Access Fund. The programme, which was launched in 2018, was one of the first initiatives of the recently founded Swiss Polar Institute and it is particularly close to our hearts.  Since then, it has demonstrated the growing interest shown by a new generation of Swiss researchers in polar regions and high-altitude environments – regions that play a key role in regulating the global climate. The decision to invest in young researchers just starting out on their career has proven to be a winning play. 

Danièle Rod, Director of Swiss Polar Institute