Terre Adélie

Terre Adélie, click to enlarge

Adélie Land (Terre Adélie) is a claimed territory on the continent of Antarctica. It stretches from a coastline area along the Great Southern Ocean inland all the way to the South Pole.
This territory is claimed by France as one of five districts of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, although most countries have not given this their diplomatic recognition.

Adélie Land lies between 136° E (near Pourquoi Pas Point at 66°12′S 136°11′E) and 142° E (near Point Alden at 66°48′S 142°02′E), with a shore length of about 350 kilometres (220 mi) and with its inland part extending as a sector of a circle about 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) toward the South Pole.

Adélie Land has border with the Australian Antarctic Territory both on the east and on the west, namely on Clarie Land (part of Wilkes Land) in the west, and George V Land in the east. Its total land area, mostly covered with glaciers, is estimated to be 432,000 square kilometres (167,000 sq mi).


The coast of Adélie Land was discovered in 1840 by the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville (1790–1842) who named it after his wife, Adèle. This is the basis of the French claim on this Antarctic land.


Research Stations

Since January 12, 1956, a manned French research base has been located year-round at 66°40′S 140°01′E, the Dumont d’Urville Station, with a winter population around 33, but which goes up to about 78 during the Antarctic summer.

The first French station, Port Martin, was built April 9, 1950, at 66°49′04″S 141°23′39″E, but it was destroyed by a fire during the night of January 22–23, 1952. Port Martin housed a winter population of 11 in 1950–51 and 17 in 1951–52.

France also had an inland station on the Antarctic ice sheet long ago, about 320 km from the coast and from Dumont d’Urville Station, at an elevation of about 2400 m, the Charcot Station (named for Jean-Baptiste Charcot) at 69°22′S 139°01′E, built for the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58. This was occupied from January 1957 through 1960, but housed only three men.

Base Dumont d’Urville

Base Dumont d’Urville

The Dumont d’Urville Station (French: Base Dumont d’Urville) is a French scientific station in Antarctica on Île des Pétrels, archipelago of Pointe Géologie in Adélie Land. It is named after explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville since his expedition landed on Débarquement Rock in the Dumoulin Islands at the northeast end of the archipelogo on January 21, 1840. It is operated by the “French Polar Institute Paul-Émile Victor”, a joint operation of French public and para-public agencies.
A pioneering French Antarctic research station, Port Martin, located 62 kilometres (39 mi) east of D’Urville, was destroyed by fire on the night of January 23, 1952, without death or injury. In 1952, a small base was built on Île des Pétrels to study a rookery of emperor penguins. This base was called Base Marret.

As the main base Port Martin was a total loss, Base Marret was chosen as overwintering site for 1952/1953. The new main base, Dumont D’Urville station, was built on the same island and opened on January 12, 1956, to serve as center for French scientific research during the Antarctic International Geophysical Year 1957/1958. The station has remained in active use ever since.

The station allows 30-40 people to come ashore at one time. Ice and strong katabatic winds often prevent landings, either by boat or by helicopter. The station can accommodate about 30 winter-overs and 120 during the summer. The icebreaker ship L’Astrolabe carries supplies and personnel to the station from the port of Hobart, Tasmania. It does 5 round-trips between November and March.

The Academy Award-winning documentary film La Marche de l’empereur, released in English as March of the Penguins, was filmed in the region around this base.


One of the main interests of the base is the study of wildlife, notably the emperor penguins. In the summer, the rocks near the base serve as a refuge for the Adélie penguin, which comes here to reproduce. Skua, snow petrel, giant petrel, Cape petrel also spend the summer near the base. In the winter, only emperor penguins stay to reproduce. However, around August, giant petrels return to feed on emperor penguin chicks.

Some marine animals are equally present despite the negative temperature of the water. Among rare visitors to the archipelago, there are other species of penguins, killer whales, and rorquals.


The base Dumont d’Urville is first and foremost a scientific base, even if nowadays the transportation of supplies to the Concordia Station (operated together with Italian researchers) represents an important part of the activity of the base.

Chemistry of the atmosphere

The laboratory in atmospheric chemistry of the base is used to analyse, among other things, sulfur compounds present in the atmosphere.


Nowadays, the study of geophysics is less present in the base. Nonetheless, several tools are still in use, notably a tide gauge, a cosmic rays detector, a GPS to measure the dip of the Antarctica into the Upper Mantle, and a lidar, which allows the analysis of the ozone depletion and the ozone holes.


The proper functioning of the base and supplying Concordia require an important logistic, especially in the summer. Technicians, including electricians, plumbers, mechanics for the electric plant and auto mechanics are essential for the good functioning of the base all along the year.