Living and working in Antarctica

Introduction | Rothera | Research ships | Working deep field

Introduction

Research bases around the Antarctic Peninsula

There are many bases across Antarctica; around 30 countries have around 82 bases. Some of these bases are open only in summer, and others are operated all year around. The summertime population of Antarctica is around 5000 people (not including those on ships), but this drops to just 1000 people continent-wide during the long, dark, cold winter. The relatively accessible Antarctic Peninsula has numerous bases operated by the British, Chileans, Argentinians, Czech Republic and more. Some are permanent, like Rothera, and some are operated only in summer time, like Fossil Bluff.

Rothera

Rothera is the British Antarctic Survey’s main research base in Antarctica. From here, people depart via twin otter and Dash-7 aeroplane all over the Antarctic Peninsula and into West Antarctica. Rothera is a permanent research station. Further south, on Alexander Island, Fossil Bluff is a summer-only research station.

Explore Rothera Research Station

You can explore Rothera Research Station through the Google Map below.

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Overwintering at Rothera

Some thoughts on overwintering at Rothera by Iain Rudkin (aka Cheese).

Overwintering in Antarctica is a special experience. Childhood storybooks of Scott and Shackleton lend an almost mythical status to the earth’s most southerly landmass and inspire the adventurous streak in all of us. To be able to not only visit this amazing continent but to spend a winter there is a privilege that few get to experience.

Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island is not the most southerly base by far in Antarctica lying at only 67 degrees south. However it still lies within the Antarctic Circle, the line of latitude below which 24 hour daylight or night-time occurs. Due to the mountainous northern horizon, Rothera is subject to a period of about 2 months in which the sun doesn’t rise. The low parabola of the suns trajectory during and around this time results in the most amazing skies. Around midwinter the sea starts to freeze and the scenery is transformed from that which greets Antarctica’s summer visitors. The birds head north in flocks of thousands and as the cold starts to grip, most marine mammals also depart. A calm falls over the continent…apart from the frequent northerly storms which also rip through the base!

Life during these winter months is exciting and fun; the highlight being midwinter – an ‘Antarctican’s’ version of Christmas. Feasts, games and presents make these days, during the period of maximum darkness hours, some of the most memorable. As the light starts to return, so does the increasing awareness that soon tranquillity will no longer be yours. The multimillion pound government building you’ve called home for 7 months will once more revert to its function as a research station and with it comes an influx of summer staff.

It is hard to convey in so few words exactly what it means to winter. Whether it be the extended alpenglow over distant peaks, or the savage beauty of a storm. The unique splendour of Antarctica during its winter is something to behold and stays with you long after leaving.

These photographs courtesy of Iain Rudkin from his time at Rothera from 2009-2012.

If you’re hungry for more, check out these videos from Rothera.

Research ships

The British Antarctic Survey also use ships to deploy scientists into the field. The red and white icebreakers used include the Royal Research Ship Ernest Shackleton and the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross.The British Antarctic Survey also uses the Royal Navy’s ship, HMS Protector. These ships must break ice as they sail around the Antarctic Peninsula. They can only break ice that is less than one year old (not multi-year sea ice), and this can be a significant barrier to scientific operations. However, with their flat, sturdy hulls and thick steel, these ships are at the forefront of Antarctic cruising. Wildlife is often visible from the ships, and can include seals, penguins or wales. Beautiful icebergs drifting past entertain the scientists for hours.

I made this video while on the HMS Protector in March 2012.

Working deep field

Scientists in the field live in tents, and explore the surrounding territories by foot, quad bike or skidoo, depending on the territory. Life is very simple in basecamp, where we cook on primus stoves, eat dehydrated food, and plan the next day’s working.

Working deep field can mean lie-ups for days, where you hunker down to avoid the worst of the storm. Scientists need to melt ice for drinking water and to cook their dehydrated food- and of course for endless cups of tea. This short video shows what an Antarctic blizzard can be like! Video by Sam Doyle, starring Iain Rudkin.

For geologists, fieldwork normally comprises field mapping, taking rock samples, and logging sediments and ice exposures. Standard equipment includes a hammer and chisel, compass, clinometer, binoculars, pointing trowel, sample bags, tape measures, and so on.

Antarctica is an environmentally sensitive place, so we aim to leave the site as we found it, taking away as little as possible!It can be cold, so it is important to wrap up warm, wearing plenty of layers and good outer wear. The sun can be strong as well, so UV and sun protection is also essential!

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2 thoughts on “Living and working in Antarctica

  1. Pingback: Photography for Geoscientists

  2. HI,

    Actually I like so much to see our world natural places. Vey fantastic place in the world Antarctica. I like to visit there. My favorites are watching interesting places. How difficult to live in very cold places. I cant think even little babies how to bear such a cold.

    Have a nice time there1

    NIMALI from Sri Lanka

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