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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special issue - May 2005   

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Title  Cold comfort: living and working in Antarctica

Life on an Antarctic station varies immensely depending on season, location, infrastructure, a country’s resources and the availability of supplies.

Don’t forget a warm hat and scarf …
Don’t forget a warm hat and scarf …
Some Antarctic stations are little more than interconnected shipping containers or pre-assembled huts providing the most basic protection and comfort for short summer visits. Others are the height of modern convenience with everything from gyms to ice cream machines - not to mention private bedrooms, hot running water, sewage plants and 24-hour communication links.

Antarctic stations also vary greatly depending on whether they are coastal or continental. Coastal stations are usually located in protected bays accessible to ships, making them much easier to re-supply with food, fuel, equipment and other essentials. Their proximity to the sea also means that they can benefit from unlimited water supplies through reverse osmosis.

Inland stations, on the other hand, are dependent on air links or tracked vehicle traverses for re-supplies, making them more dependent on weather conditions and far more expensive to run. They also depend on the labour-intensive melting of snow for water and are often built directly on the ice, meaning that they must be specially designed (often on stilts or under the surface) to compensate for sinking and snow accumulation.

According to Frank Swinton, base doctor at the British Antarctic Survey Halley station, however, nothing influences life in Antarctica as much as the seasons. Whilst the vast majority of scientists only travel to Antarctica during the summer months so as to benefit from optimal light and weather conditions, 10 to 20% of Antarctica’s summer population stays behind during the winter months to man all-year stations and experiments. For these people, coping with the 24-hour darkness, the psychological effects of living in small, isolated communities and the possibility of developing serious medical problems that might not be treatable in situ requires an altogether greater level of adaptability and resilience.

Belgian science team in charge of locating the best site in the Sør Rondane mountains for the Belgo-Japanese summer station.
Belgian science team in charge of locating the best site in the Sør Rondane mountains for the Belgo-Japanese summer station.
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