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The Mario Zucchelli Italian base in Antarctica (photo by C. Cesaroni, © PNRA)

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The American Thule Air Base located on the north-western coast of Greenland (photo by G. Muscari)

The Arctic and Antarctica represent in recent decades two of the largest natural laboratories existing on our planet. The research and experiments that are conducted in these extreme environments are innumerable and range from politics, through the "simple" cooperation between nations, to the training of crews for space missions. Italy has been present in Antarctica since 1985 with a government scientific programme, the National Research Program in Antarctica (PNRA) funded by Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR). INGV has participated and participates, together with other research institutes and Italian universities, in research in polar areas since the first expeditions.

The topics followed by INGV in the polar field include geophysical observations and analyzes on very different elements that cover all parts of our planet: the atmosphere, the ice cap, the lithosphere and the behavior of natural physical fields, such as example the magnetic field and ionospheric observations at these latitudes. In Antarctica, in fact, two geomagnetic observatories and two ionospheric scintillation observatories are in operation at two different sites, at the Italian Mario Zucchelli coastal base and at the Italian-French Concordia station on the Antarctic plateau. The data of these observatories can be viewed in real time and downloaded from the respective dedicated portals. The observations of ionospheric scintillations are also conducted from the Svarbald Islands, in the Arctic polar area.

“Radioglaciology” is one of the many research activities conducted in Antarctica by INGV. It basically deals with the exploration of the Antarctic continent, buried under thick glacial layers (average thickness 2500 m, max. thickness 4800 m) and has made it possible to reconstruct, thanks to two major international projects (BEDMAP and BEDMAP2), the morphology of all the continent. Furthermore, it allowed to reveal the presence of liquid water at the ice-rock interface both in the form of accumulation (subglacial lakes) and in laminar form (wet contacts). Furthermore, radioglaciology is of fundamental importance for the choice of drilling sites in which to carry out palaeoclimatic studies and in the study of the mass balance of ice caps which affects the variation of the mean sea level of the oceans. The study of the fossil air contained in the ice of the Antarctic cap, recovered through the drilling of the now famous "ice cores", allows in fact precise reconstructions of the climatic sequences of the last 840 years and to relate the temperature variations with the presence of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and CH4 ("European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica - EPICA" project). In addition to the EPICA project, INGV has contributed, thanks to the radioglaciological measurements conducted from 1995 to today with an instrument designed, developed and updated within its laboratories, to the success of other cap drilling programs such as TALDICE ( TALos Dome Ice Core) and like the BE-OI project ( Beyond Epic Oldest Ice) currently in progress.

In the Arctic, INGV has been carrying out research activities since 2003 (through special tenders also promulgated by the PNRA) at the Ny-Ålesund station, in the Svalbard Islands (Norway), and since 2009 also at the American base in Thule, in Greenland.

In particular the Thule High Arctic Atmospheric Observatory (THAAO) consists of numerous instruments dedicated to the observation of the polar atmosphere, from the troposphere to the mesosphere, mainly aimed at studying climate change and the destruction of stratospheric ozone. The observatory is managed by a collaboration between “La Sapienza” University, ENEA, INGV, PNRA and the American institutes NCAR, NSF and the University of Alaska. The activity carried out by INGV staff is mainly focused on the measurement of concentration profiles of chemical compounds in the middle atmosphere (for example H2O and O3) and the columnar content of water vapor. These observations are carried out using microwave spectrometers designed and developed at INGV.