Claude Lorius: “All those who went to the polar regions at that time were pioneers”

Glaciologist Claude Lorius died on Tuesday March 21, 2023 at the age of 91, we learned from his publisher Arthaud. Inventor of the principle of the isotopic thermometer, Claude Lorius was one of the first whistleblowers to have highlighted the link between the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and global warming.

The glaciologist Claude Lorius was the guest of “A voix nue” in 2012, he tells in this first interview how his “intuition“that the air bubbles trapped in ice contain information and are”witnesses of the atmosphere of the past“How did this intuition come to him by simply looking at an ice cube in a glass of whiskey. But afterwards, he specifies, “it takes about ten years to show that intuition is good and real“.

It was in 1955, after answering an ad for a student in search of adventure, that he accepted the proposal to leave for a year, isolated, in a scientific base on the Antarctic continent. He was then 22 years old and left for training in Greenland on an American base because he had everything to learn about glaciology.

Among the tests, there are physical tests. We’re having our wisdom teeth and appendix removed since there won’t be a doctor.

He arrives in Adélie Land on Christmas Eve, “we arrive and in front of us we have infinite white“, and add “it’s a world that I did not suspect“. He then observes with great interest the social life of the emperor penguins.

The penguin is the only living being that we will see for months and months, it is symbolically important. Presences are important, especially since they are rare.

Antarctica is a continent, it is not an ocean of ice unlike the Arctic, says Claude Lorius. “We do not have the impression, when we arrive in any case, that this polar cap is so fragile. We see that it is firmly established“, he recognizes. There is an impressive sub-glacial relief, at the origin of the formation of icebergs. His expedition was to make it possible to set up a new station, the Charcot base, no longer coastal like that of Dumont D’Urville but inland, 350 kilometers away, near the geomagnetic pole.


When we left for Charcot station, we knew that no one would pick us up. It’s not like that anymore.

Antarctica was the only virtually unknown continent.

By Stéphane Deligeorges, with the collaboration of Claire Poinsignon. Directed by: Anne Sécheret. Sound recording: Chantal Nouvelot.

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