There are bases all over Antarctica; About 30 countries have about 82 bases. Some of these bases are open only in the summer, and others operate year-round. Antarctica’s summer population is around 5,000 (excluding those on board), but that number drops to just 1,000 across the continent during the long, dark, and cold winters.
Research facilities around the Antarctic Peninsula.
The relatively accessible Antarctic peninsula has many bases run by the British, Chileans, Argentines, Czechs, and more. Some are permanent, like Rothera, and some are only active in the summer, like Fossil Bluff.
- Rothera, on the island of Adelaide in the western Antarctic Peninsula, is the main research facility of the British Antarctic Survey in Antarctica. From there, people flew in twin otters and Dash-7s across the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica. Rothera is a permanent research station. Farther south, on Alexander Island, Fossil Bluff is a research station that operates only in the summer. Explore Rothera Research Station
Some thoughts on wintering in Rothera by Iain Rudkin (aka Cheese). Spending the winter in Antarctica is a special experience. Scott and Shackleton’s childhood stories have brought quasi-mythical status to Earth’s southernmost land and inspired the adventurous personality in all of us. Not only being able to visit this amazing continent but also being able to spend a winter is a privilege that few people get the chance to experience. The Rothera Research Station on the island of Adelaide is not the southernmost facility in Antarctica, located just 67 degrees south. However, it still lies within the Antarctic Circle, the line of latitude under which 24-hour daylight or night takes place. Due to the mountainous northern horizon, Rothera suffered a period of about 2 months when the sun did not rise. The low parabola of the sun’s path in and around this period yields the most amazing skies. In the middle of winter, the sea begins to freeze and the landscape changes from the place that welcomes summer visitors to Antarctica. The birds headed north in flocks of thousands, and when the cold began to hit, most of the marine mammals left as well. A calm enveloped the continent… in addition to the frequent storms from the north that also tore the base!
Life in these winter months is exciting and fun; the climax is mid-winter – an “Antarctica” version of Christmas. Parties, games and gifts make these days, for the maximum length of time, one of the most memorable. As the light begins to return, there is a growing awareness that peace will soon no longer be yours. The multi-million-pound government building you call home for seven months will once again regain its function as a research station and with it a huge summer staff. It’s hard to say exactly what winter means in a few words. Whether it’s the bright light of the Alps stretching across the distant peaks or the unspoiled beauty of a storm. The unique splendor of Antarctica in winter is remarkable and stays with you long after you leave. These photos are of Iain Rudkin during his time at Rothera from 2009-2012.
- South Georgia is a sub-Antarctic island located north of the Antarctic Peninsula. It lies south of the Polar Front and north of the Southern Front of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia
One of South Georgia’s main research facilities, Grytviken, is busy year-round. You can take a virtual tour here. The former whaling station is the largest settlement in South Georgia and occupies a sheltered bay (East Cumberland Bay).
Gytviken is currently a research facility for scientists, many of whom focus on studying the incredibly diverse bird and seal life on the island. This biodiversity hotspot is home to penguins, albatrosses, fur seals and elephant seals.
- The British Antarctic Survey also uses ships to deploy scientists to the scene. The red and white icebreakers used include the Royal Research Vessel Ernest Shackleton and the Royal Research Vessel James Clark Ross. The British Antarctic Survey also uses the Royal Navy vessel, HMS Protector. These ships had to break through the ice as they circled the Antarctic Peninsula. They can only break ice less than a year old (not multi-year sea ice), which can significantly interfere with scientific activities. However, with their flat, sturdy hulls and large gauge steel, these ships are at the forefront of Antarctic cruises. Wildlife is often seen from ships and may include seals, penguins or falcons. Magnificent icebergs entertain scientists for hours.
Field scientists live in tents and explore the surrounding territories on foot, four-wheeler, or snowmobile, depending on the territory. Life at the base camp was simple, where we cooked on the stove, ate dry food and planned for the next day’s work. Working in the deep can mean lying down for days, where you cower to avoid the worst of the storm. Scientists need to defrost to drink water and cook their dehydrated food – and of course to have countless cups of tea. This short video shows what an Antarctic blizzard could look like! Video by Sam Doyle, with Iain Rudkin.
For geologists, fieldwork often includes field mapping, collecting rock samples, and recording layers of sediment and ice. Standard equipment includes hammer and chisel, compass, inclinometer, binoculars, trowel, sample bag, tape measure, and more. Antarctica is an environmentally sensitive place, so we aim to leave the site as we found it, removing as little as possible! The sun can also be very strong, so UV protection and sun protection are essential too!