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The European Conference on Grand Challenges in Ocean and Polar Science, convened in Bremen in September 1994 by the European Committee on Ocean and Polar Sciences (ECOPS) under the auspices of the Commission of the European Communities (CEC) and the European Science Foundation (ESF), was a major step for European and international polar and marine scientists, policy makers and stakeholders to interact on the formulation of a long-term strategy in ocean and polar research, taking into account the Grand Challenges proposal as part of the European science agenda for the years to come.

Based on such a background, in 1995 the European Science Foundation established the European Marine and Polar Sciences Board (EMaPS), supported by a joint secretariat hosted at the ESF headquarters in Strasbourg. EMaPS was dissolved in 1999 on the basis of an independent 1998 review; the Marine Board and the Polar Board were retained independently, each with its own Chair, Executive Committee and secretariat based at the ESF.

In 1998 the EPB membership consisted of 17 major polar funding and research organisations from 13 different nations, including Russia. As a stand alone organisation, the European Polar Board proved its crucial role as Europe’s strategic advisory body on science policy in the Arctic and Antarctic and as a platform for European engagement in international science programmes and strategic science policy advice to the European Commission and international bodies.

In the earlier period of its activity, the European Polar Board developed strong links among its European member organisations, international polar programmes (e.g., EPICA, LOIRA, SCICEX, Nansen Arctic Drilling Programme, etc.) and with international partners such as SCAR, IASC, SCOR, US National Science Foundation and several relevant institutions of the Russian Federation. The EPB was aiming to represent European polar science in a broader sense, through strengthening scientific and operational links with Russian and other Eastern European countries which were running polar programmes. The Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) became an EPB permanent observer.  Strong emphasis was given to cooperation in polar logistics, mainly in air operations. Great projects such as EPICA (European Project on Ice Coring in Antarctica), Cape Roberts, Concordia, AURORA BOREALIS were supported .  A huge effort was devoted to implementing EU-USA cooperation in polar science.  The 2nd  European- US Dialogue on Science and Technology Cooperation in Polar Regions (Seattle, USA, October 2003) addressed key topics for future polar research such as ice-coring, drilling technologies (including EPICA), sub-glacial lakes, icebreaker coordination and the new AURORA BOREALIS concept, astronomy-astrophysics and the forthcoming International Polar Year.

Starting from 2005, the European Polar Board played a direct role in managing EC projects through the ESF secretariat. The EUROPOLAR ERA-NET (2005-2009) managed by EPB was a consortium of 25 ministries, funding agencies and national polar research authorities from 19 European countries and of the ESF-EPB to encourage and support a closer relationship between national polar programmes. The European Polar Consortium project culminated in a Memorandum of Understanding for a ‘European Polar Framework’ which was signed by 26 funding organisations from 19 countries at the European Polar Summit in Brussels on 24 June 2009, and was subsequently passed to the European Polar Board. 

During this period, the INFRAPOLAR project was conceived by the EPB as a large-scale strategic initiative to support networking and transnational access to more than 70 European and international research stations in the polar regions. The EC-FP 7 ERICON AURORA BOREALIS Project launched in March 2008 has been a major initiative of the European Polar Board.  ERICON AB addressed the construction and running of an unprecedented pan-European polar research icebreaker named AURORA BOREALIS. Significant efforts by the EPB office staff were required for the project, including overall project management and coordination. 

The European Polar Consortium launched the PolarCLIMATE Programme; six collaborative research projects on Arctic and Antarctic priority environmental topics were funded by EPB member organisations for a total amount of 10 M€.

Nowadays, through its 28 members from national operators and research institutes in 18 countries and over 40 polar stations in the Arctic and Antarctica, the European Polar Board is the major organisation which coordinates European Arctic and Antarctic research. It fills a crucial role in optimising the use of European research infrastructures, fostering multilateral collaboration between European national funding agencies, national polar institutes and research organisations and representing polar issues within European research framework programmes.

The EPB maintains and improves strong links to European and international decision makers and funding agencies, in order to provide timely and relevant information on strategic scientific issues and forward-looking perspectives on polar research in a multitude of environmental domains. Furthermore, the EPB is actively liaising with major polar programmes outside Europe including those in the USA, Russia and Canada.

The EPB Executive Board is currently comprised of six members, including the Chair of the Committee. They are elected directly by the Board in majority consensus or voting. The new EPB Constitution, approved in December 2012, and the related Memorandum of Understanding, has renewed the EPB mission and has established new financial and governance rules: the Executive Committee is reduced to four members, plus the Chair; the member organisations provide the main financial contributions according to a scale based on their domestic gross product and other relevant elements. Due to the expected closure of the European Science Foundation at the end of 2015, the European Polar Board established that the EPB Secretariat will be hosted and managed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), The Hague, the Netherlands from 1 January 2015.