A Globetrotter's Guide to Extreme Science Centers

Scientist on a caving expedition.

Courtesy of G. Badino


Opportunities for the bravest and fittest are many. Next Wave has profiled a few research centres around the world where young scientists may seek the ultimate thrill.

In the Underground

La Venta, Exploring Team , Italy

La Venta specialises in organising trips to remote areas around the world and pushing further the boundaries of both geographical and scientific exploration--especially underground. La Venta projects have taken the team to the Land of Fire in Argentina, the canyon of Rio and the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico, and glaciers in Pakistan, Iceland, and Patagonia. Their scientific research most often involves archaeology, anthropology, speleology, geology, hydrology, and environmental conservation.

The Rob Palmer Blue Holes Foundation , the Bahamas

"Blue holes" in the Bahamas mark the presence of caves underneath the ocean, nearly unspoilt environments that "hold details of about 100,000,000 years of history." The Foundation's remit is to explore these caves on physical and scientific grounds, blending disciplines such as climatology, geology, hydrology, and biology.

The Alpine Karst Foundation , Montana, USA

The Foundation focuses on the alpine karst areas of North America and the rest of the world, mapping mountain cave systems and studying their physical, geological, biological, anthropological, and ecological aspects.

Far at Sea

Ridge 2000 Program , USA

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Ridge 2000 is "an interdisciplinary initiative to study the Earth's oceanic spreading ridge system as an integrated whole, from its inception in the mantle to its manifestations in the biosphere and water column." This research program partly relies on the use of ships and deep-sea vehicles, and is carried out in collaboration with many other federal programs and research centres.

Southampton Oceanography Centre , UK

Supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Centre hosts multidisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers who study the oceans and their interaction with Earth. The centre's research focuses on the mid-ocean-ridges and plate tectonic processes, the deep ocean (emphasizing biological and geochemical processes), the upper ocean (emphasizing the chemical and biological processes), and the management of the coastal environment.

IFM-GEOMAR, Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences , Germany

Based at Kiel University, the Institute was born from a merger between the Institute for Marine Science (IfM) and the Research Center for Marine Geosciences (GEOMAR). The institute carries out research world-wide around four main themes: climate dynamics based on oceanographic, geological, and meteorological investigations; marine biogeochemistry; marine ecology; and the dynamics of the ocean floor.

High Up There

Ev-K²-CNR Project , Italy

The Ev-K²-CNR Project, supported by the Italian National Research Council (CNR), is geared toward research and exploration in Mount Everest and K2. As part of the project the Pyramid International Laboratory-Observatory was built at an altitude of 5050m at the foot of the Nepali side of Mount Everest. The pyramid is "the first semi-permanent high altitude research centre which includes a self-sufficient energy system as well as a fully equipped scientific laboratory." The research taps into many fields, such as anthropological sciences, earth and environmental sciences, geophysics, geodesy, geology, medicine, and physiology.

International Foundation High Altitude Research stations Jungfraujoch and Gornergrat (HFSJG) , Switzerland

The Foundation provides infrastructure and support to member countries to do research at 3000-3500 meters in an alpine climate and environment. The facilities at Jungfraujoch station include chemistry and medical laboratories, an astronomical dome, and a weather observation station, while the Gornergrat station offers astronomical observatories.

Alpine Ecosystems Research Centre (CREA) , France

This small nonprofit organisation looks into "the distribution of species and the functioning of their populations at high altitudes," with a particular emphasis on the impact of human activities and climate change on these populations. The team conducts fundamental and field research in the fields of ecology, population biology, and behavioural ecology.

Tropical Forests and Jungles

Center for International Forestry Research , Indonesia

This international institution is "committed to conserving forests and improving the livelihoods of people in the tropics" in over 30 countries around Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America. Their Environmental Services and Sustainable Use of Forests section looks into improving forest management, and carries out research in biodiversity, forest ecosystems and human health, and climate change and forests.

Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI) , Finland

Part of the Department of Forest Ecology at the University of Helsinki, the institute's research focuses on forests in tropical and developing countries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Africa, Central America, China, and West Africa. The institute's research taps into the dynamics of tree regeneration; forest tree eco-physiology and population genetics; agroforestry system management and modelling.

Mixed Research Unit Ecofog , France

This Guyana-based research unit is shared by several French national research institutes, namely l'Ecole Nationale du Génie Rural des Eaux et des Forêts ( ENGREF), l´Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique ( INRA), le Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement ( CIRAD), and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique ( CNRS). Ecofog aims to shed light on the ecological processes that occur in tropical forests, with an emphasis on biodiversity.

In the Hot and Dry

The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute , USA

"The mission of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute is to promote public awareness, appreciation, and concern for the natural diversity of the Chihuahuan Desert region through research and education." The institute is based in the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanic Gardens, which has a dedicated 20-acre arboretum, and a canyon trail.

The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research , Israel

The center conducts basic and applied research into desert meteorology and solar energy, hydrology, ecology, plant and animal physiology, and cellular and molecular biology, with applications in pollution biodegradation in particular. This research may be carried out in the Sede Boqer Campus or on-field in the Negev Desert.

Desert Research Center , Egypt

Based in Cairo, this national research centre has for remit to "explore and evaluate Egyptian desert land in order to select regions best suited for cultivation, as well as techniques for optimizing available resources." To this end it carries out research in the fields of water resources and desert soils; animal and poultry production; ecology and dry land agriculture, as well as socioeconomic studies.

In the Cold

Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) , Australia

This partnership between Australian and Commonwealth research organisations is "dedicated to sustainable management of Antarctic marine ecosystem resources and the study of atmospheric and oceanic processes of the Southern Ocean and their role in global and regional climate change." The centre runs research programmes in climate variability and change, the monitoring of sea levels, ocean uptake of carbon dioxide, and Antarctic marine ecosystems.

Alaska Fisheries Science Center , USA

A research branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Center is dedicated to the "conservation, management, and utilization of the region's living marine resources." Researchers mainly have a background in biology or physics, and may carry out both on-field and in-the-lab experiments.

British Antarctic Survey , UK

Supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Survey encompasses most British research in and around the Antarctic, with scientific interests ranging "from the outer limits of the Earth's atmosphere to the depths of oceanic trenches." The Survey's current research programmes look into the Antarctic ice sheet, Antarctic climate processes, Antarctic biodiversity and management of ecosystems, and the past tectonic forces that led to the formation of today's Antarctic.

Volcanoes and Natural Disasters

US Geological Survey (USGS) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) , USA

Part of the remit of the Observatory, which is located in Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park, is to carry out gas geochemistry "in order to assess the current eruptive activity and hazards of Kilauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes and to develop and test new volcanic gas monitoring techniques for use in Hawaii and elsewhere." The observatory also conducts geological research to study eruptions and reduce the associated risks, looks at ground deformation around eruptive volcanoes, and carries out seismologic studies.

Natural Hazards Research Centre , New Zealand

Based in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, the Natural Hazards Research Centre specialises in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In particular, it studies the physical processes involved in these phenomena and related geological and geomorphological phenomena, and it also carries out risk assessments.

Benfield Hazard Research Centre , UK

Based at University College London, the Centre has a fundamental research component focusing on natural hazards, with a strong orientation towards risk assessment and the application of preventive measures. Among the natural disasters studied by the centre are seismic and volcanic activities, tsunamis, and tropical cyclones.

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