You've heard of Scott Base, but what about Troll, Great Wall or Jang … – Stuff


All the global powers have bases in Antarctica but so do some countries you might not expect. Lee Kenny looks at the incredible research stations scattered across the frozen continent.
You’ve heard of Scott Base, but what about Jang Bogo, Troll or Gabriel de Castilla?
There are almost 70 permanent stations dotted across Antarctica and they come in all shapes and sizes.
Thirty are seasonal, operating during the warmer months between October and February, while 38 are year-round facilities, staffed throughout the dark winter by a hardy skeleton crew.
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Some are on the Antarctic Plateau. Others are on the coast, allowing easier access from the Southern Ocean or from the five Gateway Cities.
There is a cluster on the South Shetland Islands and just over a dozen on the Antarctic Peninsula, the long tail of ice that stretches towards South America.
“The 32 national programmes operate a range of facilities across the Antarctic,” said Michelle Rogan-Finnemore, executive secretary of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP).
“Currently in the COMNAP database there are about 117 of these facilities. They can be something little like a camp, or it can be full-blown, like a research station.”
Standing on the barren Brunt Ice Shelf, Halley VI could be mistaken for a Moon base. In fact, it was the world’s first movable research facility.
Operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), it’s made up of eight modules which have ski-fitted hydraulic legs. The sections can be separated and towed independently to a new location.
Equally futuristic in its design is China’s Taishan, which resembles a UFO and is used for the study of geology, meteorology and space physics.
Other architectural eccentricities include Germany’s 40-bed facility Neumayer III – which looks like a cruise liner on stilts – and South Africa’s SANAE IV, a 132m caterpillar of a building which can house 80 staff and sits atop a rocky ridge surrounded by a glacier.
Many are smaller and more rustic. Argentina’s Brown station is a modest collection of huts beside the water in Paradise Harbor​ and France’s Dumont d’Urville is located on Petrel Island, close to where Adélie penguins and seals come to breed.
They would make a great AirBnb, if only you could get to them.
Among the smallest stations is Chile’s Dr Guillermo Mann, in Cape Shirreff,​ which has only eight beds. Temperatures reach a relatively warm 2C in February and scientists are drawn there to study the large, nearby Antarctic fur seal colony.
Argentina has 13 Antarctic stations, the most of any country. Russia has 10 and Chile nine.
Concordia is the only joint-owned facility, operated by France and Italy. It’s also one of the most remote, 1100km from the coast. It sits on an ice cap at an altitude of 3233m – that’s just 491m lower than the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook.
The stations also offer a glimpse into the national psyche of each country.
Some are named in honour of royalty, such as Spain’s King Juan Carlos I, or Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth, the Duchess of Brabant.
Others celebrate scientific figures, such as Czech Republic’s Johann Gregor Mendel or Ecuador’s Pedro Vicente Maldonado.
China’s Great Wall and Peru’s Machu Picchu pay homage to their famous landmarks.
“Just like the national programmes themselves, the stations and facilities are highly varied, they are all very different,” said Rogan-Finnemore.
“The one thing they have in common is the national Antarctic programmes need systems at those facilities to keep the stations running, to keep people safe and alive and to keep the research equipment going.”
Another common feature of many of the stations is that they are “really old”, she said.
“They are ageing facilities, many of which were built in the late 50s or early 60s, or during a boom in construction in the mid-80s.”
COMNAP carried out a survey in 2018 and asked national programmes if they plan to modernise, rebuild or upgrade their stations.
“A whopping 73% answered ‘yes’,” said Rogan-Finnemore.
“This is a huge amount of stations (and) includes New Zealand’s Scott Base.
“The reasons they cited were they wanted to make them more environmentally friendly – the bulk of them run on fossil fuel.”
Most programmes are hoping to achieve zero-emissions status, like Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, the world’s first zero-emission polar research station.
Operating since 2009, it boasts renewable wind and solar energy and water treatment facilities, while the power demand is continuously monitored to maximise energy efficiency.
The purpose of the stations is to support scientific research, with some studies dating back more than 60 years.
“The Antarctic provides us with a long-term record of international science,” said Rogan-Finnemore.
“There’s also a lot of atmospheric science that can’t be done anywhere on the Earth. If we couldn’t do it in the Antarctic, we’d have to do space work.”
The continent holds the world’s oldest ice, which contains unique data that can be used to better understand a range of subjects, including climate change.
“The whole structure of the Antarctic – the ice, the depths of the Southern Ocean – they hold a long-term record of what the Earth’s climate was like millions of years ago, and you can’t get that anywhere else.”
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