Photo credits : oceaneye - manta trawl and microplastic samples

Scientific agenda

The passive igloo participates in different scientific collaborations. This page is intended to serve as a platform for information on completed or ongoing activities. For more information, please get in touch.

The passive igloo - a sailboat dedicated to science

The passive igloo offers accomodation to master students and researchers motivated by an interest and passion towards research in the Arctic regions, whether sailing in the summer or during Arctic winter where the vessel is stationary in the ice.

Scientific partners 2020

University of Rome - GREAL, University of Geneva- Department F.-A. Forel, Faculty of Science, University of Savoie Mont-Blanc - LCME, IFSTTAR and Nantes - GERS and the National Georgaphic Society of Italy

Scientific partners 2018

In collaboration with not-for-profit organisation PolarQuest2018 : Centro Fermi, Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, Consiglio Nationales delle Ricerche, CERN the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geographic research and Application Loboratory, Centro di Ricerca, Sviluppo e Studi Superiori in Sardegna, National Georgaphic Society of Italy

Scientific partners 2015 - 2017

Météo-France, Oceaneye, Ifremer, University of Brest, University Savoie Mont Blanc. Topics of study cover weather, climate, biodiversity and pollution of the oceans. The passive igloo is also involved in Isaaffik, a new gateway connecting Arctic research, education, consultancy and logistics.

Scientific agenda

Nanuq2020 : the Blosseville coast inventory

A scientific expedition to the east coast of Greenland

Building unique knowledge for environmental science

Scientific program :

  • Modelling a portion of the Blosseville coastline from georeferenced photographs
  • detailed modeling of different sectors from orthophotos (UAVs)
  • documentation of thermal areas by infrared thermography (UAV)
  • documentation of vegetation indices obtained by NDVI camera (UAV)
  • inventory of fauna and flora on selected areas (transects)
  • salinity profiles to determine the thickness of the fresh water/melting water layer (DST probe)
  • temperature profiles, search for underwater hot springs (DST probe)
  • our sonars will enable us to carry out bathymetry of certain sectors (3D sonar)
  • study of dissolved methane in freshwater lakes (sampling)
  • reconnaissance of freshwater lakes in preparation for 'Flying Plastics 2021' (Universities of Paris and Savoie)

Location: Blosseville coast (east coast of Greenland); the exploration of Scoresby Sund will be made in the perspective of prospecting for future projects

When: July - August 2020


PolarQuEEEst : Extreme Energy Events - CERN

Built by school students from Switzerland, Italy, Iceland and Norway at CERN, PolarQuEEEst is a special detector to catch cosmic rays coming from the distant regions of our universe. Three of these special “telescopes” will be built to measure the cosmic ray flux at different latitudes, with one of them on board Nanuq and the two others installed in the schools of the students from Italy and Norway who will build them.

Capteur EEE installé sur le pont avant de Nanuq; membre d'équipae Ombretta PInazza en train de préparar le capteur pour l'installation en Islande

The project is part of the Extreme Energy Events – Science Inside Schools (EEE) project coordinated by the Museo storico della Fisica e Centro Studi e Ricerche Enrico Fermi (Centro Fermi), an Italian research institute with its headquarters in the historic building of the old Institute of Physics in via Panisperna in Rome, where Enrico Fermi made his famous studies on the importance of slowing down the neutrons to produce induced radioactivity.


Abbrescia M. et. al. (EEE Collaboration), " New high precision measurements of the cosmic charged particle rate beyond the Arctic Circle with the PolarquEEEst experiment", The European Physical Journal C volume 80, Article number: 665, 2020 (PDF)

Nania R., Pinazza O., "Measuring cosmic ray showers near the north pole with the extreme energy events project", Il Nuovo Saggiatore, volume 34, 2018

CERN Courier, International Journal of High-Energy Physics, "Cosmic research poles apart", December 2018


Arctic Micro- et Nano-plastics : CNR - ISMAR

Plastics make up the largest quantity of the non-biodegradable material contaminating the world’s oceans and is a huge environmental concern because its longevity means that it can be distributed over huge distances from its origin, and accumulate in remote areas such as the Poles. Once in the ocean, mechanical and biological processes cause plastics to break down into microplastics, which are difficult to remove from the ocean and are a threat to the diverse marine food webs and ecosystems supported by polar waters.

Using the Mantanet to collect microplastic data samples in the Arctic.

Water samples were collected using a manta net in the top 16 cm of surface water.

Supported by

Publications :

Aliani S. and al, "Polarquest2018 expedition : Plastic Debris at 82°07 North" in Mare Plasticm - The Plastic Sea, Springer, 2020


PCB's in atmosphere : LCME, University of Savoie

Laboratoire Chimie Moléculaire et Environnement (LCME)

During the second leg of the expedition, Svalbard’s circumnavigation, Polarquest2018 will drop scientific coordinator Frédéric Gillet will travel from King's Bay out to scientifically-interesting glaciers. During his mission, he will install special sensors that have to be in place for a sufficiently long time in the environment to obtain significant results in measuring the quantity of PCBs in the air. They will be recovered in one or two years’ time.

Frédéric Gillet deploying the passive sensor to dose atmospheric PCBs, far away from the pollution of civilization (photo Alwin Courcy)

Links :


Polar Drones : Geographic Research and Application Laboratory

Polarquest2018 will test the use of commercial low cost minidrones as scientific tools for field research in the Arctic.

Our drone team will deploy a fleet of three small drones (two mini-drones below 2 kgs of max take-off weight, one micro-drone, below 300 grams) in several scenarios on the coast around the Svalbard archipelago, above 78 degrees N latitude. Mini and micro drones are especially suited for efficient and low-cost survey of remote and typically inaccessible areas such as the Svalbard archipelago, both on land and sea environments.

Exemple de rendu de modèle 3D du survol de InIglefieldbreen sur la côte orientale du Spitzberg (image Gianluca Casagrande)

We will carry out observations of ice-cover variations (comparing with archived data), land conditions, vegetation, floating ice distribution and presence and behavior of fauna, including polar bears. Surveys will include photogrammetry, photo/video footage in the visible light as well as multispectral and thermal imagery to be used in different types of analyses.

The objective of this campaign is to develop efficient and cost-effective observation methods.

Links :


Climate and Weather : Météo-France

In order to improve the quantity and quality of atmospheric data collected from across the globe, scientists seek to maximize the number of measurements, especially at sea. These data include improving weather forecasts and safety at sea.

Deployment of SVP drifeter buoys, Nanuq Greenland 2015 (photos Alain Berthoud)

"SVP drifter data buoys" collect and transmit data via satellite:

  • air pressure
  • sea surface temperature
  • speed and direction of surface currents
  • the CTG waves
  • wind speed

The goal is to deploy additional drifting weather buoys on different areas during the trip. In parallel, the boat will be equipped with an integrated weather station that will provide a complete data set at each full hour via Iridium SBD. These data can be viewed in near real time.

Chart : air pressure observations over the sea surface in November 2013, red dots = drifting buoys, source EUMETNET

Web :


Arctic micro-plastics : Ifremer / Oceaneye

Carte : modèle de prédiction numérique de concentration de débris plastiques flottants. Source: Maximenko et al. (2012)

Five huge waste zones about the size of a country float on the ocean surface. They are called the seventh continents or waste patches, accumulation areas. They are mainly composed of small plastic debris from fragmentation of waste. The cause of their existence is human pollution that is transported by ocean currents. This phenomena is now no longer a hypothesis but a scientific certainty.

The objective is to determine the quantity of plastic contained in the sea water along the voyage.

Web :


Maritime microorganisms : University of Brest

Niskin bottle and work in progress on board, Nanuq Greenland 2015 (photos Sylvie Margot)

a) Diversity of microorganisms:

The structure, function and biodiversity of Arctic marine ecosystems are influenced by several key factors and are very well adapted to the extreme conditions of their environment. However, impacts of climate change on Arctic ecosystems are expected to be very strong and more rapid than any other biome on earth. As phytoplankton is the basis of many food webs, it is absolutely crucial to study their spatial distribution and diversity. Moreover, there are concerns that the nature of algae blooms in the Arctic could be modified, especially due to the sea- ice retreat, or ocean acidification. It is proposed to investigate phytoplanktonic diversity by sampling regularly along the cruise line, with an emphasis around the coast of Greenland.

b) Macronutrients (nitrates, phosphates and silicates)

In the Arctic, important shifts in nutrient availability took place in recent years. As a result, significant changes in primary production of Arctic Ocean waters occurred. As complementary measurements to microorganisms diversity, nutrient distribution will be investigated along Nanuq voyage, with a focus on total dissolved inorganic nitrogen, phosphorus and silicon.

c) Trace Elements

Phytoplankton growth requires carbon, light and macronutrients). In addition, trace elements play a key role : some are essential for living organisms (e.g Fe, Mn , Cu, Ni , Zn , Co), while others are toxic (eg Pb and Hg). The structure, function and biodiversity of marine Arctic ecosystems may be affected by any bioavailability variation of these trace elements. Their distribution is tightly linked to the variation of their inputs, such as sea-ice or melting glaciers.

The goal is to quantify some trace elements (total dissolved mercury and particulate Fe, Mn, Al) in different areas along the voyage, with an emphasis around Greenland

Web :


PCB's : University Savoie Mont-Blanc

Laboratoire Chimie Moléculaire et Environnement (LCME)

By means of passive sensors, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) will be sampled in the atmosphere and in the ocean on behalf of the LCME of Savoie Mont Blanc University. The laboratory analysis of these molecules captures in passive sensors will determine the concentrations of gaseous PCBs in air and PCBs dissolved in water and then calculate PCB flows at the air-water interface.

S etup of passive absorbers (water - left; air - right), Nanuq Iceland 2015 (photos Alain Berthoud)

These calculations will clarify the role of the ocean with respect to these persistent organic micro: source or sink of atmospheric PCBs. Comparison with data previously acquired by other teams by scientists from concentrations measured in the Arctic air will finally provide information on the atmospheric dynamics of these pollutants in the current context of climate change.

  • PCBs in water
  • PCBs and PAHs in air

Laboratory analysis of these molecules captured in passive absorbers made it possible to determine the concentrations of gaseous PCBs in the air and PCBs dissolved in seawater, and then to determine their diffusion modes. This work was presented at the 16th International Conference on Chemistry and the Environment in Oslo, ICCE 2017.

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Web :


Energy : The passive igloo project

The 'passive igloo' is the cabin of a 60' polar expedition sailboat. The design is inspired by concepts and techniques used in low-energy high performance buildings.

The aim is to pass through an arctic winter in a self-sufficient way and without the use of non-renewable energy in order to explore how simple and robust constructive and technical solutions may to challenge low-cost energy scarcity in a credible way. Transposed to temperate climates, the experience feedback will be useful to outline the habitat of tomorrow.

The real passive igloo - end of winter, Nanuq Greenland 2016 (photo Peter Gallinelli)

Measured variables:

  • indoor air temperature: living area (floor, ambient, ceiling), cabins, buffer zone
  • inner and outer surface temperatures and heat flux trough the thermal envelope of the igloo
  • indoor air quality : relative humidity and CO2 levels
  • air change rate
  • energy produced, consumed
  • occupancy rate, activities
  • external environment: temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, wind speed

Scientific purpose : to observe and describe the comfort/energy ratio, document comfort and hygrothermal operation and establish a detailed energy balance.

Web (internal links) :



frédéric gillet & peter.gallinelli June 2021