Polarstern vs. Belgica, a comparison of both ships

After roughly a month of sailing on board of the Polarstern, we thought a blog comparing our research vessel to the Belgica was to order. Quite some differences are to be noted, starting with differences in ship size. With a length of 36 m, a width of 7.8 m, and a draught of 4.1 m, the Steamed Yacht (SY) Belgica was roughly four times smaller compared to the 117.9 x 25.0 x 13.6 m (height to 1st level) Polarstern. Unlike the Polarstern, equipped with four engines of 4.799 horsepower (hp) each, the Belgica with its only 35 hp and shallower draught must have faced much harsher times in rough sea compared to us (see our previous VLOG “Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties, Screaming Sixties”). Differences in ship size brings differences in capacity, with drastic difference in the number of people on board. For an expedition with the main goal being the exploration and the gathering of a vast amount of new scientific data, the Belgica comprised relatively few scientists on board, namely five scientists vs. 19 crew (five of which were fired in Punta Arenas). On board of Polarstern, we are currently a more balanced 49 scientists vs. 45 crew. The age demography differed greatly as well, with much younger participants taking part in the Belgica Voyage, aging between 17 and 34 years old, vs. 19 to 65 years currently on board. For being a Belgian expedition, the nationality on board of the Belgica was quite diverse, with participants from five different European countries, mainly Belgians and Norwegians, and one American. With roughly four times more participants, our Polarstern expedition comprises 15 international nationalities. With 125 years apart, however, the research fields covered during both expeditions were relatively similar, with geologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, meteorologists, and zoologists present in both expeditions.

Belgica (picture above, © DE GERLACHE FAMILY COLLECTION) taken by Dr. Cook by moonlight with an hour and half exposure time on June 3, 1898, vs. Polarstern (picture below, © G. Verhaegen) at the Ekström Ice Shelf, unloading cargo and fuel for the Neumayer Station III on January 7th, 2023.

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