Friday 29th June 2007 by C. Freeman
Imagine going for three months without washing, or nearly a whole year without a taste of fresh fruit! They are just some of the harsh conditions faced by the intrepid scientists of the British Antarctic Survey.
Scientist, Neil Wilson is in charge of health and safety for the British bases in Antarctica, told students at Brooke Weston about the extreme conditions on the frozen continent.
The journey there is arduous, consisting of a 9,000 mile flight to the Falkland Islands and a five day voyage to get to Rothera, one of four bases in the Antarctic with another three in the remote islands of South Georgia. The British Antarctic Survey's scientists study the biology, geology and physical landscape of the area to get clues to issues such as global warming and ecological change.
Conditions are so harsh that scientists are cut off from the world from March to November where they endure 100 days of permanent wintry night. They are so remote that one doctor even had to perform a surgical operation on herself under local anaesthetic! It's not uncommon for waves to reach higher than 100ft, temperatures to drop to -70 degrees with wind chill factored in and inquisitive penguins often wander in to the buildings there just for a look around!
Mr Wilson gave two one-hour lectures to students and he was impressed at the quality of their responses. 'Students in both groups seemed quite interested and their questions were intelligent' he said.
The British Antarctic Survey was first set up in the Second World War detecting German battle cruisers using the Antarctic to refuel and resupply their craft and over the years the scientists have done vital research, being the first to detect the hole in the ozone layer.
During summer in the northern hemisphere the Antarctic bases operate with a skeleton staff over the winter with perhaps a handful of personnel at each base. Neil said: 'It's not a place to go if you're going to feel isolated or homesick.' The scientists there have to cope with all eventualities including emergencies as the nearest Fire Brigade is on the Falklands! Contingency plans are in place so that if a fire breaks out there are spare supplies stored in other buildings at an adequate distance, and there's a years supply of dried food in case the supply ships (which normally visit twice every year) cannot dock due to bad weather.
The BAS traditionally study biological, physical and geological data. Over the past five years they have integrated these three disciplines to get a wider view of how changes in one area will have an impact on another. Neil said: 'The thesis is that the weather patterns in the Antarctic will impact on world weather patterns one or two years down the line. We have a remit in informing our own politicians and provide independent information about what is happening on a global scale.'