Brazilian government officials and representatives of Congress met with scientists in Brasilia this week and laid out initial plans to rebuild and modernize the country’s Antarctic research station following last month’s fire.
No money has been allocated for construction yet, but the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation committed around US$1.1 million in new grants to help students rebuild their projects, as well as additional funds — estimated to be around $4.5 million — to replace scientific equipment that was lost in the fire, according to Jefferson Simões, who attended the meeting and heads the Brazilian Institute for Cryospheric Science and Technology.
Despite losing core biology laboratories, Brazilian scientists now say that roughly 60% of the research was located in other parts of the station or in the field and continues unaffected. Going forward, the initial focus will be on cleaning up the wreckage and preparing the site for a new station. One possibility is that scientists might be able to access a ship that could house temporary equipment at the base next year, and work could then begin on a new field station as early as the 2013–2014 field season.
Although the station has existed since 1984, it was originally designed for the Brazilian Navy. Brazil’s interest in polar science began in earnest with the International Polar Year, Simões says, and since 2007 the federal government has invested around $23 million in a pair of research institutes focused on cryospheric and environmental sciences in Antarctica. Although broader international economic concerns loom over all federal budgets, Simões says that the polar programme seems to have broad support, pointing out that President Dilma Rousseff herself committed to rebuilding the research station. “I’m optimistic,” he says. “Hopefully we are going to expand in the future.”