site.btaProf. Pimpirev Dreams of Antarctic Base to Be Used by Researchers in 22nd Century
"During our 32nd Antarctic expedition, the Bulgarian naval research vessel Sv. Sv. Kiril i Metodii (RSV 421) will be carrying 80 tons of materials for the construction of a new laboratory of the Bulgarian base on Livingston Island. I have the vision and the desire for this to be a research base that will be used by scientists in the 22nd century," Prof. Christo Pimpirev said in a BTA interview. He heads the Bulgarian Antarctic expeditions and is chairman of the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute (BAI).
"We are building this for the next century, even though we are at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. What is being built there is for the future, because we are looking to the future, not turning our heads back. This is a future for our children and our children's children. That is why we are working on the Ice Continent, and it is for a reason that research is the main focus of the expedition, and of all the expeditions so far," said Prof. Pimpirev.
Ten projects on Livingston Island
During our 32nd Antarctic expedition, we will be working on ten research projects - very diverse, some continuing from the previous expedition, some new. These are research projects in the Earth sciences: geology and glaciology. We don't have glaciers in Bulgaria, but since we have a base in Antarctica and glaciers are the main geomorphological forms there, we are studying them, Prof. Pimpirev explained.
He said that glaciers are a big indicator of climate change, as their melting is causing climate change across the planet. Although this is happening in Antarctica - a continent that is far away from us – the melting of the glaciers, especially in West Antarctica where the Bulgarian base is located, is causing the global sea level to rise, affecting climate across the planet. Antarctica is the "kitchen of the Earth's climate" and we are working, together with our colleagues from Portugal, Spain and the US, on issues that affect the whole planet, Prof. Pimpirev said.
In December, at the world climate conference, one of the events will present our joint research with colleagues from Spain and Portugal on climate change in West Antarctica, he said.
“Geological research is also very important, as last year we proved that there is gold among the minerals that are being discovered on the continent close to the Bulgarian base. From the previous expedition we proved that the gold deposits are not negligible, but the rare metals, including copper, are more important than gold as without them we cannot have our mobile phones," said he.
Second Antarctic voyage
This is the second expedition with the participation of RSV 421, which will be a great help with the whole organization, said Prof. Pimpirev. “The good thing about this expedition is that the ship and the crew have gained experience, and it will not be like last year when everything was done for the first time: the first Bulgarian research vessel that entered the World Ocean and crossed the most dangerous waters on the planet including the Drake Passage, the Southern Ocean with the icebergs," the scientist explained.
“That is why this expedition has an expanded program, thanks to the Bulgarian research ship, and we have now reached level playing field with the polar states. One of the main tasks, from a logistical point of view, is to build the new modern laboratory at the Bulgarian base. Last year the foundations were completed, with a special type of cement because the conditions there are very different from what we are used to, and it is very difficult to build,” said Pimpirev.
The last builders will leave Antarctica at the end of March and the goal is to complete construction because otherwise the hurricanes in the coming winter will blow the laboratory away. The builders and all members of the expedition have an important task because everyone is there to help when needed - to fetch or carry something. Researchers, doctors and logisticians: all act as a team, the head of the Bulgarian Antarctic expeditions said.
New equipment for RSV 421 and the Livingston base
"We don’t have anything that is dramatically new because having new scientific equipment takes solid funding. Unfortunately, we don't have that funding for our research vessel equipment yet. Furthermore, we will need funding to equip the research laboratory because that is where the science will be done and we need equipment - not just one room. We want to have modern scientific equipment, not second-hand equipment, because everything there should be new and based on cutting-edge technology ," Prof. Pimpirev said.
As a matter of fact, there is a new tool on the ship for taking samples of the ocean floor, and there is a scientist from the Institute of Oceanology in Varna, Raina Hristova, who will study the ocean sediments, explained the head of the Antarctic expeditions.
“We will also explore the extremely interesting diversity of organisms in the Southern Ocean: the fish, which are unique because the population is large in size but includes very few species as the water temperature is around freezing and not conducive to life. And the organisms which have adapted are not very diverse, but they come in large numbers," said Pimpirev. "We will have a fish specialist and we have the wish - and I think this time it will materialize - to bring back live fish from this unique fish wealth to Bulgaria, to the Natural History Museum in Plovdiv," the scientist explained.
The duration of the expedition
"The ship leaves first because it takes 45 days of sailing to get to Livingston Island. Then the scientists will leave around mid-December. The ship will then sail back home, eventually the builders, some of the scientists and logisticians will also leave. They'll be back home by mid-April, and the ship will be back in early April. The whole expedition will last three and a half months to four months,” Pimpirev said.
He noted that the Bulgarian research vessel is expected to reach Antarctica shortly before Christmas and that the real work will begin when the logisticians and scientists arrive. The base should be opened for the new season.
A sewage treatment plant will be installed at the Bulgarian base on Livingstone Island - this needs to be done, the scientist added.
Antarctic research as national policy and foreign diplomacy
The exploration of Antarctica is not a private initiative but a national policy - both in science and in foreign policy, as Bulgaria's presence in Antarctica represents foreign diplomacy, said Pimpirev. He added that this is Bulgaria’s presence in a continent that accounts for one tenth of the Earth's landmass and Bulgaria is there together with 29 other countries. "And these are countries from across the world. On the Antarctic we are together with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia. We are there and this is a very significant form of foreign policy."
He pointed out Bulgaria has a national polar research programme under the Ministry of Education and Science. "We are the only country in the whole Balkan Peninsula that has a base and has this status on Antarctica. Czechia and Poland are the only two other former socialist countries that have it. We should be proud that we govern a continent together with all the great powers and that we have equal rights with them," Pimpirev stressed.
In his words, the expedition is a highly patriotic activity and many big companies are helping it. One is the supermarket chain Kaufland, which provided food supplies for the previous expedition. “This is an extraordinary help and we are extremely grateful. Many other companies are helping, even individuals - a honey producer offered to donate ten kilos of honey. This helps because we are not one of the richest countries,” Pimpirev noted.
A respected country in Antarctica
"Expedition members often visit schools and they see how excited children are to hear about Antarctica. We have already published several children's books, one is 'The Story of Gosho the Penguin', which has almost sold out. Children are keen to get this knowledge, to find out about this continent, which is also Bulgarian. There is also a role for the media and journalists to promote what we are doing, because, first of all, we are carrying out very significant research there and very significant activities for the country’s foreign policy. And with its presence there, with its scientific research, with its scientific diplomacy, with its foreign policy, Bulgaria is a respected state among the polar countries. And we can only be proud of that - over the last year, we are viewed with great respect thanks to our research vessel. People need to understand that because in Antarctica, we are a country that is respected," said Pimpirev.
Christo Pimpirev is a professor of geology at the St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia. He is a scientist and polar researcher. He is the founder and chairman of the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute, and the director of the National Centre for Polar Studies. He has led 31 national Antarctic expeditions. He was the first Bulgarian to fly the Bulgarian national flag at the South Pole, on January 8, 2013. He has authored books, documentaries and more than 250 scientific publications.