Do you still feel the cold through the many layers of clothing that you wear?

Question:
Hello, we are 25 Primary 5 pupils from Inverness. We are studying Antarctica as our topic and would love to communicate with a scientist who has worked in Antarctica. We hope you can answer some of our questions.
Do you still feel the cold through the many layers of clothing that you wear?
Is it hard/slippy to walk on the ice?
Are you able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables or is the food you eat all from packets?
Is it cold inside or do you have heaters?
How long do people stay in Antarctica and is it hard living there? What do you do in your spare time?
What is your job in Antarctica?
Thank you for helping us
Primary 5

Hello Primary 5,

I was thrilled to receive these questions! Here I have tried to answer each one.

Do you still feel the cold through the many layers of clothing that you wear?

Antarctic scientists wear lots of layers that are designed to keep us warm when we’re working outside. One of the most important is a down jacket filled with warm feathers, which keeps us cosy even when it’s well below zero! The images below shows us working when it was about -25 degrees Celsius, but the warm jackets, gloves, hats, buffs and scarfs keep us warm.

P1000205Mike Hambrey and Bethan Davies working in Antarctica. Photo credit: Ian Hey.

Below: Ian and Mike Hambrey on a moraine. Photo credit: Bethan Davies.

moraine-transects

We do still sometimes get cold of course, but we quickly warm up with a thermos of coffee or tea and some chocolate! We also sometimes take breaks in a bothy, which is like a tent that you can put up very quickly and shelter in.

Is it hard/slippy to walk on the ice?

The ice can be very slippery to walk on, so we wear crampons on our feet when walking on ice. They have sharp metal teeth that bite into the ice and stop us from slipping over. The image below shows someone ice climbing using crampons (from Wikipedia).

CramponAre you able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables or is the food you eat all from packets?

When we are working deep field, away from the research bases, we only eat food from packets. So no fresh food or vegetables! This is because they are heavy and go off quite quickly. Weight is very important as everything must be flown in or carried in to the field site.

When we are working on a research base, like Rothera, fresh food is available in the summer months when the bases are supplied by a ship. Bases are not supplied in the winter however, and so once the ‘freshies’ run out, that’s it! No more vegetables until the next ship arrives in the spring!

Is it cold inside or do you have heaters?

The research bases are very warm and cosy inside. They are well insulated and have heaters so you only need to wear clothes like you might at home in the winter. When we’re camping in the field, we can use primus stoves to warm up the tent. The image below shows our three-man tent that we camped in for two months.

making-campIt is very cosy inside the tent, once you have lit the primus stove and tilly lamp. It is all rather comfortable! In the image below you can see a pot coming to the boil on the primus stove. The paraffin tilly lamp is hanging up, giving us light and heat.

img_8614

How long do people stay in Antarctica and is it hard living there? What do you do in your spare time?

Research bases, like Rothera, must be manned all year around. So some people will go to Antarctica for up to 18 months to work on the bases. This includes people like plumbers, engineers, doctors, scientists, chefs, meteorologists, and all sorts of other people! Life can be hard as they do not get to see their family for all of the time that they are there.

Other scientists, like me, can only work in the summer in Antarctica. So I only ever go down for up to three months at a time.

When you’re on the base, you work a normal working week and have plenty of spare time. People use the internet, socialise with their friends, go for a walk, play games and cards, go skiing or sledging, ice climbing and all sorts of other activities in their time off. There is plenty to do! And there are always penguins to look at! The animals are often around the base and always provide entertainment. Here is an elephant seal outside my sleeping quarters!

img_9828

What is your job in Antarctica?

I’m a glacial geologist so I go to Antarctica to study the evidence for ancient glaciers. I’m interested in how past glaciations shaped the landscape in Antarctica and what that can tell us about how glaciers respond to climate change. The picture below shows me working deep field in Antarctica!

img_8796Thank you for asking me all your questions!

About

I am a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle Univeristy, specialising in glaciology and glacial geology. I wrote and developed the AntarcticGlaciers.org website as part of an ongoing commitment to outreach, education and research impact. Read more about me at www.antarcticglaciers.org/bethan-davies.

1 thought on “Do you still feel the cold through the many layers of clothing that you wear?”

  1. Bethan, I am just reading the internet and happen to find your site, I love the outdoors, spend 3 years in the marines, and 23 years in the Air National Guard (Red Horse). Did a lot of deployments around the world but never in Antarctica, was going to go to the north pole, but we were not able to do that, I really wish I had gone there, anyway, your answers were outstanding, learn a lot just by reading your lines that you wrote. I am retired now, but still enjoy the outdoors, love canoeing, hiking and anything that has to do with the outdoors. Take care. A Friend Jose Rodriguez

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