Polar Access Fund: 2018 in review

January 8, 2019

In 2018, the Polar Access Fund awarded scholarships to students engaged in research on global warning for the first time. We take a look back at a busy year for the PAF, a programme designed to give students from leading Swiss research centres the opportunity to visit the most far-flung corners of the planet.

The PAF: a demanding programme

The Polar Access Fund calls for applications from students engaged in doctoral or post-doctoral studies at Swiss universities and research facilities. These students, working in a variety of fields, are all united by a scientific interest in the phenomena observed at the world’s poles as a result of global warming. After the cut-off date for applications, a panel of experts meets to select the winning projects and divide the available funds between these expeditions. The judging criteria focus primarily on the value added by the research projects, and the scientific benefits of each expedition.

Covering a broad array of topics

The 2018 programme awarded grants to five researchers, including three women, from four Swiss institutions (the University of Zürich, ETH Zürich, Paul Scherrer Institute and the Federal Institute for Research on Forests, Snow and Landscapes). The successful applicants travelled to Greenland, Siberia and Bhutan during the summer of 2018, collecting samples and observing natural phenomena.

The research topics covered include glacial melting, microbial populations in frozen lakes and aerosol concentrations in the Arctic. All are affected by global warming, and serve as clear indicators of climate change in action. Studying these phenomena is essential to understanding the scale of the disruption which climate change is wreaking upon our planet.

Eef van Dongen finally got to witness ice calving at close range, an impressive experience: “After studying the theory of calving glaciers for almost a year, it was very impressive to see a calving glacier in reality. I did not expect the sound of icebergs breaking off and falling into the sea to be that loud. It is almost like hearing a thunderstorm”.

Applications open now for 2019

The application window for this year’s round of funding is open until 15 January 2019. Grants of up to 20,000 CHF are awarded to eligible projects.

For more information on the 2018 expeditions, visit the SPI website.


In 2016, the BNP Paribas Swiss Foundation joined forces with the Swiss Polar Institute to help young researchers take part in an expedition to Antarctica. In 2018, building on the success of this important project, the Fondation and SPI launched the Polar Access Fund in order to provide vital funding to young scientists conducting research into climate change.