Port-Vendres: how a restored military fortress became an international scientific observatory for storms

Built by General Boulanger in 1886 in a highly strategic location for cross-border surveillance, this 7,000 m² unclassified site was abandoned. The property of the town of Port-Vendres has been entrusted to a heritage enthusiast to develop it. Better yet, together with an expert scientist, this place will become a Nature and Space Observatory with the BIR project.

Care must be taken on the narrow road leading to the heights of Port-Vendres. The panorama on arrival is breathtaking! castle named after Battery 500, On the southern flank of the climb to Madeloc, on the straight route of the GR 10, the plane gradually regains its presence. This squat, overgrown site is stunning and offers a variety of facilities, including a tower and three vaulted rooms, recently cleaned and well preserved, including incredible acoustics.

The view of the castle is incredible and especially out of bounds!
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It is managed by Stéphane Plaquin, a passionate Port-vendrais adopter about a restored military heritage. At age 53, this real estate agent, who has military status with his duties as a civilian reservist, quickly recognized the potential of this fort. He was able to easily tempt the municipality with his preservation project, which resulted in the signing of an emphythetic 50-year lease.

The ONE project is the result of a tripartite collaboration between City (pictured center), the rehabilitation company of the Stéphane Plaquin castle, and international scholar Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne.

The ONE project is the result of a tripartite collaboration between City (pictured center), the rehabilitation company of the Stéphane Plaquin castle, and international scholar Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne.
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Stéphane Plaquin has secured the site and renovated the tower with his own funds (€5,000), pending the return of various grant applications. At the same time, he tries to federate to revive the Fort: “We can imagine many activities, especially a stop and welcome for hikers on the GR 10. The site is not classified, so it can be open for tourism. This place is a unique observation point, great for raising awareness among the general public and young people. nature.

The birth of the ONE project

And afterThis was the meeting between Stéphane Plaquin and Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne, famous scientist (emeritus research director of the CEA, assistant researcher at the University of Versailles), organizer of the environment-climate symposium (formerly in Collioure and now in Port). Vendres). “Encouraging the greater public and scientists to meet in a direct and simplified exchange is our common theme for these 5.e The next June symposium will be renamed Mare Nostrum, environment-climate. Our ambition is to go beyond simple scientific observations and propose solutions for adaptation to climate change and warming.” coordinator Jean-Martin Garrou summarizes.

Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne recently received the LAMB award for her research on perturbations in the mid-atmosphere from the ground to the ionosphere and for developing a new concept for characterizing high-altitude discharges useful for space-based observations.  It carries the ONE project and the Port-Vendres colloquium.

Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne recently received the LAMB award for her research on perturbations in the mid-atmosphere from the ground to the ionosphere and for developing a new concept for characterizing high-altitude discharges useful for space-based observations. It carries the ONE project and the Port-Vendres colloquium.
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Thus, this exceptionally uncontaminated site won over research engineers who responded to Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne’s invitation: “LExperts from the Atomic Energy Commission and the Astroparticle laboratory will therefore install a gamma sensor supervised by a joint research unit (CNRS, CEA, CNES, IN2P3 and the Paris Observatory). This Gamma radiation makes it possible to study lightning and especially high-energy events, to obtain measurements that are part of an international project. I note that these atmospheric sensors are relatively discreet and risk-free in the environment.. It should be noted that the Banyuls ocean observatory is also on the circuit.

It should be remembered that the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) is a key player in research serving the state, economy and citizens by providing concrete solutions in various fields.

Who is Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne from the Pyrenees, who has been fascinated by storms since childhood?

With a 44-year scientific career at the Atomic Energy Commission, Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne no longer counts the awards that applaud her commitment. On June 6, 2021, she was awarded the Legion of Honor, and on October 18, 2022, she received the LAMB award from the Academy of Sciences for her work in the field of National Defense (a first for women in 50 years!).

In particular, the scientists of the Committee on Atomic Energy (CEA) will soon install the sensors without distorting the beauty of the site.

In particular, the scientists of the Committee on Atomic Energy (CEA) will soon install the sensors without distorting the beauty of the site.
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His obsession is storms and their mechanisms, the still-working retiree recalls: “As a child, I always asked questions and no one knew how to answer me about the storm. So I told myself that I would find answers.” A brilliant student, he entered the Paul Sabatier University of Sciences in Toulouse and discovered astrophysics: “The field of knowledge was huge, observing the Earth through monitoring networks and teams scattered around the world was perfect. However, I wanted to be multidisciplinary to open up the possibilities. I am fascinated by the atmosphere and space.” Persistence leading to fundamental discoveries: “Measurements confirm that all sources of atmospheric disturbance are at ground level. I found sprites to be, simply put, lightning that shoots upward and has interesting dumps. The scale of natural phenomena is huge.”

The future castle observatory is on the long-distance hiking trail across the Pyrenees (GR10), to be revived from next summer.

The future castle observatory is on the long-distance hiking trail across the Pyrenees (GR10), to be revived from next summer.
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Elisabeth Blanc-Cassagne, internationally known for her research and observation of disturbing changes, remains optimistic: “Of course, if we are there, it is man’s fault. To control global warming, CO2 emissions must be completely limited. We must adapt ecologically and sociologically. We cannot change the climate, but we can slow certain events by our collective actions. The role of scientists is to provide knowledge, from there we act with precise anticipation”

All this will be discussed at the 5th Maré Nostrum Symposium next June in Port-Vendres, which will follow the theme “Mediterranean-Environment-Climate”.

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