Science & Technology

Spanish navy research vessel stops in Chile ahead of Antarctica expedition

By Iñaki Martinez Azpiroz

Punta Arenas, Chile, Dec 9 (EFE).- A Spanish navy research vessel has stopped in this far-southern Chilean city prior to its arrival in Antarctica, where it will be used in a joint expedition also involving several Spanish and international institutions.

The BIO Hesperides, which is making its final stopover before heading for the White Continent on Tuesday, will reopen and equip two Spanish bases in Antarctica to enable scientists to conduct research there over the summer window, which runs until March.

Pelayo Gimenez, an ensign on board the BIO Hesperides who this year is making his second trip to Antarctica, told Efe that navigating those polar waters entails difficulty and risk but that Spanish navy sailors are prepared to take on these types of assignments.

He said military assistance is necessary in carrying out these scientific missions in icy waters and rugged, virgin territory and recalled that the Spanish navy has already conducted 36 Antarctic expeditions, 27 of them involving the Hesperides.

That vessel has a three-pronged mission: to reopen two Spanish bases in Antarctica during this latest December-to-March window, provide logistical support to the scientific research at those facilities and serve as a marine platform for its crew’s own on-board investigations.

Prior to the Hesperides’ 1990 launch, the Spanish navy had deployed another polar vessel, the Las Palmas.

But that ship lacked its own scientific laboratories and only provided logistical support to on-land projects; due to those limitations, a decision was made to build a new vessel capable of supporting on-board research.

For now, the Hesperides is a cutting-edge and one of a kind ship in the Iberian nation, Gimenez said, adding that it is “the only Spanish oceanographic vessel capable of conducting multi-disciplinary research in both hemispheres.”

The scientists will begin their work in early January after the Spanish bases have been reopened and the ship returns to the Argentine city of Ushuaia to pick up the first batch of researchers.

The scientific projects to be carried out this season will focus on environmental questions such as the impact of climate change on the personality of Antarctic penguins, as well as technological tests such as verification of the signal strength of Galileo, Europe’s Global Navigation Satellite System, in high latitudes.

But Hesperides’ run may be coming to an end after three decades, according to Gimenez, who said the idea of building a replacement ship is now under consideration.

For now, that future Spanish oceanographic vessel remains in the design phase and is not expected to be laid down in the near future.

The Hesperides’ 27th expedition will conclude in March when the last group of scientists return home and the Spanish navy closes the bases down until the next Antarctic summer season. EFE


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