Life at an Antarctic research station can be challenging. In addition to contending with the harsh polar environment, crew members must endure living conditions that are both incredibly isolated and unrelentingly social. Applicants usually must pass a comprehensive psychological exam. Luckily, you don’t have to sign up for six months or a year as a crew member to get a taste of life at an Antarctic research station. You can simply take an expedition cruise. Most
Bellingshausen Station is located on King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands. The Soviet Union set up this year-round station in 1968 and named it after Fabian von Bellingshausen, an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy who led the expedition that discovered Antarctica in 1820. The Russian station, consisting of 15 silver and red buildings on stilts, has a maximum of 40 residents in summer and a winter population of 13. Unlike some other Antarctic research stations, Bellingshausen is not terribly isolated. Within walking distance along the shore of Maxwell Bay are several other stations, including Chile’s sprawling Frei Base and China’s Great Wall Station. Also on the premises is Holy Trinity Church, the southernmost Eastern Orthodox church in the world. The beautiful 15m-high wooden church was built in the traditional Russian style, complete with onion domes and a fragrant interior with hand-painted icons. It has been permanently staffed by a resident priest since its consecration in 2004.
Previously a haven for whaling ships and the former site of a British military outpost known as “Base A”, Port Lockroy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Antarctica. Today, the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust operates a gift shop, post office and museum at the beautifully restored Bransfield House on Goudier Island. Proceeds from the well-stocked gift shop (credit cards and US dollars accepted) go toward museum operations and conservation of other British historical sites around Antarctica. The three or four summer-only station staff share their tiny island with 800 pairs of gentoo penguins. To ease visitor congestion at Bransfield House, visits are often made in conjunction with landings at nearby Jougla Point, where many more gentoos can be seen along with nesting blue-eyed shags and a complete whale skeleton on shore.
Academician Vernadsky Station, named after the first president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, is located on Galindez Island in the Argentine Islands. The station was originally established by the United Kingdom in 1947 and was transferred to Ukraine in 1996 for the symbolic price of £1. Continuous recordings of metrological data show the mean annual temperature in this part of Antarctica has risen by about 2.5°C since 1947. The station consists of nine buildings and can accommodate up to 24 people. Upstairs in the main building there is a library, gift shop and lounge with a dartboard, billiards table and beautifully carved wooden bar. The lounge is adorned with flags and photos from neighboring stations and visiting ships. On an adjacent island is Wordie House, a historic building that has been restored to its early-1950s appearance and filled with period artifacts such as Tilley lamps, old radio equipment and sacks of anthracite.
Like everything else in Antarctica, station visits are dependent on ice and weather conditions. When visiting a research station, please keep in mind that these are people’s homes and places of work. With a respectful attitude and an open mind, you will come away from your station visit with an understanding of the rewards and challenges of living in Antarctica!