What are the 10 craziest and coolest facts about living in Antarctica? After 10 days at Scott Base here’s a list of some of the strangest things in our day-to-day life at the bottom of the world.
When we stepped off the airplane on the 20th September the ambient air temperature was -42 degrees Celsius. At that temperature you can throw a cup of boiling water in the air and nothing comes down! Any skin showing can get frostbite in a few minutes. If there is a —- wind blowing the temperature will plunge towards -60 including wind chill factor. There are few habited places on Earth that get this cold and for good reason. Just going outside for a “quick walk” requires putting on many layers of clothing, and failure to do so is very dangerous. Slipping over and hurting yourself can suddenly put you in a life-threatening position within a few hundred metres of base!
At first we weren’t allowed outside Scott Base without an experienced staff member. After a short Antarctic Field Training course we are now allowed outside in pairs but not off the base grounds yet. Next week we do our full Antarctic field training including an overnight camping trip in tents. After that we can go off base in pairs, for hikes in the local area, in good weather!
Just a few minutes outside is enough for our eyelashes to start to freeze together!
This one takes a bit to get used to! Antarctica is the driest place on Earth and with so little humidity, you easily build up static electricity. When you touch a conducting material like metal, water or another person you can get quite a big electric shock! It gives you quite a fright, may even hurt a bit and can happen 3 times walking the length of the corridor to get a cup of tea! It’s very important to ground yourself before touching phones, watches and computers. If you forget, you run the risk of killing it with the shock. One person has already killed their watch with a spark of static electricity!!
In September, Antarctica is rapidly coming out of winter. The first few nights were dark enough to look for the Aurora Australis and it was really cool the first night. But daylight is getting 15 minutes longer every day and only 10 days after arriving, it doesn’t get properly dark anymore. Shortly, the sun won’t set at all and we will have 24 hour sunlight.
Imagine being out camping and getting sunburnt at 2 in the morning!!
Because the humidity is so low it is very easy to get dehydrated. The first couple of nights I would take a glass of water to bed with me and it wasn’t enough. Now I take 2 or even a 1L drink bottle to avoid waking up feeling like I’m chewing on sawdust!
If you have a couple of drinks at the bar (Yes, Scott Base has a bar and over the hill at McMurdo Station there are 3) it’s important to drink water afterwards or you get a headache REALLY fast!
Because it is extremely dry, fire is a huge danger down here. Even a small blaze would be out of control very quickly. Everyone undergoes a few days of fire training and we have a fire team who carry pagers at all times, ready to respond if needed. If there is a fire, running outside isn’t really an option. You won’t last long at -20 to -40 degrees if you don’t have time to get full extreme cold weather clothing on!
Scott Base is only metres away from the ocean, but most of the time you wouldn’t know it. It is frozen solid! One of my jobs is to measure, record and monitor the depth of the sea ice. Yesterday, we were all out as a team, drilling away, checking for cracks and thicknesses of the ice. In most places it is between 1.2 and 2.5m thick! And that’s the ocean! Sometimes in late summer the sea ice will break free from the land and float away, leaving open ocean behind. When I was down here 2 years ago on an expedition ship, we anchored exactly where we were drilling yesterday!
As employees at Scott Base, we are working for the New Zealand government. I am essentially representing my country on an international stage! Pretty cool! We have the Kiwi flag on the arm of all our jackets.
Damn! I wish we had changed our flag 2 years ago! I liked the new design much better but, much to my disappointment, as a country we voted not to change it!
Due to the huge scale of Antarctica, it is really easy to under-estimate distances. What looks like it should take 5 minutes to walk to, can take half an hour. And what looks like 15 minutes to fly to will take an hour. So you have to be really careful!
Today we actually had the opposite. We were driving in the Hagland (the green, tracked, car-looking thing in the pictures) and there was a mirage between us and our destination. It was 3km away but looked like 10km.
Trick question: How much water is there in Antarctica? Answer: Zero. It’s all ice.
Because Scott Base is right next to the frozen ocean we actually make water from the sea. This requires a lot of electricity to turn saltwater to fresh through reverse osmosis. To help limit the amount of electricity required, we are asked to reduce our water usage and spend no more than 2 minutes in the shower.
How do we get internet?? Via Satellite! And yes, as you can imagine, it’s very expensive and quite slow. Some days it is faster than others and it depends on how many people are using it. Most staff don’t get access to WiFi so it’s just Facebook and emails on the public computers around base. It tends to work fastest at 2am when everyone is sleeping. Haha!
I’m not sure what satellite the internet goes through but it is much slower than the satellite internet we have at my home at Gorge River in New Zealand.
Blogging is proving to be a little difficult. I will do my best to send out updates, even if I have to get up at 2am to use the internet under the midnight sun!
Soon, I will be running a competition for my email subscribers. 20 people will win a postcard to be sent from New Zealand’s southernmost post office at Scott Base (or McMurdo Station on request). Be in to win! Subscribe in the box on the top right.
I also have a couple of other posts about living in Antarctica. Check them out!