It’s summer in Antarctica, the season for science. But at Belgium’s futuristic research outpost in East Antarctica, not a single Belgian researcher is at work. A protracted dispute between the Belgian government and the private foundation that built and operates the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station has resulted in the cancellation of this year’s Belgian expedition to Antarctica. While the country’s polar scientists stew at home, the foundation’s president, celebrity adventurer Alain Hubert, is manning the station with a small crew.
At the heart of the dispute is a straightforward question: Who controls the Princess Elisabeth? The warring parties are not making it easy to find an answer. Some 15 legal actions have been launched between the government and Hubert’s foundation, says a spokesperson for Elke Sleurs, Belgian state secretary for science policy. Accusations about mismanagement, theft, and deceit are flying in the Belgian press.
The contretemps is a blow to scientists. “It’s terrible,” says Nicole van Lipzig of the University of Leuven in Belgium, whose team is missing out on measurements at the station’s cloud observatory. Foreign researchers, too, lament a squandered opportunity. “It’s ridiculous,” says Konrad Steffen, director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) in Birmensdorf, who visited the station to do research in 2012.