The Logistics of Living in Antarctica


This video was made possible by Brilliant. The first 97 people to sign up at brilliant.org/Wendover
will get 20% off their premium subscription. Antarctica is earth’s coldest, most desolate,
most isolated, windiest, driest, and southernmost continent. All but 2% of the land-mass is covered in
ice thousands of feet thick. Human eyes did not gaze upon the continent
until 1820. Human feet did not touch Antarctica until
1895. It is not a place built for humans but still,
thousands of people live there for up to years on end, but how do they get there, how do
they live there, and how does Antarctica work? Antarctica has thousands of residents, significant
infrastructure, and a large transport network and yet it’s one of the very few areas of
land on earth not part of any country. Seven countries have made Antarctic claims—Chile,
Argentina, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, France, and New Zealand—but they are exactly
that, claims. The only real gauge of whether a country’s
territorial claim is real is if other countries recognize it and, overwhelmingly, these claims
are not recognized. Australia’s claim, for example, is only
recognized by the United Kingdom, Norway, France, and New Zealand—countries which
clearly have a vested interest in the recognition of Antarctic claims. For the most part, these claims are ignored. One doesn’t go through customs upon arrival
in the claims and certain of them overlap with other claims. The more universally recognized interpretation
is that Antarctica is an international zone. Just like outer space and the ocean, Antarctica
is considered part of the common heritage of mankind meaning that it should be preserved
immaculately for all future generations, forever, but that’s easier said than done. The seminal piece of legislation regulating
the continent is the Antarctic Treaty. Just as the cold war was heating up in the
late 1950’s, the United States, the Soviet Union, and all other countries with an interest
in Antarctica gathered together to decide how the continent would be used. They emerged with a future-facing treaty that
solved most political disputes and issues with the continent, except for one. In its text, the treaty specifically says,
“Nothing contained in the present treaty shall be interpreted as a renunciation by
any Contracting Party of previously asserted rights of or claims to territorial sovereignty
in Antarctica.” Essentially, they didn’t solve the sovereignty
issue because it was too difficult to solve, but they did ban military presence, mining,
and nuclear explosions which has helped enormously in keeping the last continent pristine. So that brings us to today. There are no large scale commercial operations
in Antarctica thanks to that treaty. The vast majority of individuals are there
for research. Of course, living and maintaining a base on
the world’s most desolate continent is hugely expensive, but it’s worth it for the research
that can only be conducted in Antarctica. Some individuals are there to study the continent
itself—it’s wildlife, its geology, and its climate—but others use the area to study
the entire world. Ice cores can be used to track historic atmospheric
carbon levels, underground ponds can be tapped to find ancient microbial life unique to the
area, and ice thickness can be monitored to understand how sea levels will rise. Scientists even use Antarctica to look at
space. As such as isolated place, Antarctica has
very low background radiation and virtually no light pollution which allows astronomers
to use various techniques to peer into deep space. Scientists are performing groundbreaking research
in Antarctica, but how do they even get there? The difficulty in getting to Antarctica all
stems from its weather. The all-time record high at the south pole
is 9.9 degrees Fahrenheit. The coasts are significantly warmer where
the average summer high is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit but still, weather above freezing
anywhere in Antarctica is an anomaly. As mentioned, this means that there is virtually
no bare ground—nearly the entire continent is covered in thick ice and snow. Therefore, the only real choice when building
an Antarctic airstrip is whether to make it on ice or snow. One thing to remember is that Antarctica is
a desert. The coastal regions, where most of the research
bases are, do experience the most snow but still then, that’s a maximum of eight inches
per year. The south pole, meanwhile, only sees about
2-3 inches of snowfall per year. It doesn’t snow much, but when it does,
it sticks around for centuries. Therefore, a runway built on ice or snow is
fairly permanent. It doesn’t get buried as one might in Canada
or Russia. McMurdo Station’s Pegasus Field, for example,
was used for more than 40 years before it closed in 2016 to be replaced by the new Phoenix
Airfield. Phoenix Airfield is a compacted snow runway. Machines are used to pack the snow until it’s
dense enough to support a fully loaded, half-million pound C-17 wheeled cargo plane. But compacted-snow runways have a disadvantage—they
can melt. During the warmest months of the summer, the
snow can warm and soften enough that it is no longer safe to land wheeled aircraft so
that’s why there’s the other type of runway—blue ice runways. These ice runways are built on areas of glacial
ice where’s there’s no snow accumulation. Ice is much more resilient to warmer temperatures
so these runways can be used year-round. Runways on the sea-ice are also used typically
at the beginning of the summer research season in early November until December when the
southern hemisphere’s summer begins and the ice starts to break up. Once the coasts are ice-free, cargo ships
can also bring supplies in to the major coastal stations, and from there the internal logistics
network gets to work. Large planes are used to get as much cargo
and as many passengers to the continent as inexpensively as possible. There are certain airports on other continents
that serve as gateways to the Antarctic. Christchurch, New Zealand Airport, for example,
sends about 100 flights per year and 5,500 passengers to Antarctica and serves as the
staging area for the New Zealand, American, and Italian Antarctic logistics operations. From there, it’s only a five hour flight
to McMurdo Station—the largest Antarctic research base. While Christchurch is the major Antarctic
gateway, flight do also leave from Cape Town, South Africa and Punta Arenas, Chile. These larger intercontinental planes typically
land at the major blue-ice and compacted snow runways near the coast, but then many of these
passengers and much of this cargo needs to get inland. The inland research bases tend to be smaller
and there are fewer of them, but they are still significant. The American Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station,
for example, has a population of 150 people in the summer and there are also smaller Italian,
French, Russian, Japanese, and German stations away from the coasts. For the American Antarctic operations, McMurdo
station operates as the logistics hub. Nearly all cargo and passengers arrive there
on larger cargo planes or cargo ships. From there, passengers and some cargo are
transferred most often onto Lockheed LC-130 planes. These prop planes are specifically designed
for Arctic and Antarctic operations. They have retractable skis that allow them
to land on soft, non-compacted snow and there are only ten in existence. Polar operations often mean taking off at
high altitudes where the air in thin. The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, where
the plane often flies to, for example, is surprisingly at 9,300 feet above sea-level. That’s even higher than the highest elevation
commercial airport in the US. When the air is thin wings generate less lift
so the speed needed to takeoff is higher and so, in order to be able to takeoff at higher
elevations, this LC-130 plane has rockets to help speed it up at take-off. Thanks to its skis, this plane can operate
to those places like the South Pole station that don’t have compacted snow or blue ice
runways. While passengers and some cargo like fresh
food take the quick two hour flight from McMurdo Station to the South Pole, there is another
way. Flights are hugely expensive and the United
States Antarctic Program works on a limited budget so there’s an effort being made to
reduce shipping costs. Therefore, they built a road. Just like the runways this road is made from
compacted snow and stretches 995 miles from McMurdo Station to the South Pole. Using this South Pole Traverse, the United
States Antarctic Program runs convoys of tractors pulling sleds of cargo across the ice and
snow. This trip takes about 40 days one-way, but
it still is significantly cheaper than flights and can handle cargo too large to fit in an
LC-130 cargo plane. Of course, Antarctica is still Antarctica—one
of the harshest climates in the world. Whenever a plane leaves from New Zealand or
South Africa or Chile to Antarctica, it’s required to take enough fuel to fly all the
way to its destination, attempt landing, then fly back to its origin if landing is not possible. Planes fail, equipment breaks, and weather
changes, so Antarctica just isn’t a place conducive to reliability. For this reason, planes are prohibited from
landing or taking off in the dark and of course, in the winter in Antarctica, it’s dark for
24 hours a day. Therefore, for seven months out of the year,
there are no planes, no boats, no link at all between Antarctica and the rest of the
world. The lack of transport links during the winter
have as much to do with the cold as the dark. At McMurdo station where most ships dock on
the coast, the winter temperature rarely rises above zero degrees Fahrenheit meaning the
coast is blocked with sea-ice and meanwhile at the South Pole station, the average July
high temperature is -67 degrees Fahrenheit meaning that if any plane landed there, its
fuel would freeze within minutes. Of course, the large bases, like McMurdo Station
which balloons to well over 1,000 residents in the summer, need maintenance over the winter
and some science experiments need to be conducted year round so people have to stay in Antarctica,
alone, in the dark, for the entire winter with no link to the outside world. In recent years there have been a small number
of exceptions to this lack of flights in winter, mostly due to medical evacuation flights,
but for the most part, once the last plane leaves in February, everyone still in Antarctica
is stuck there until the following November. All food, fuel, and supplies are stocked there
well before and a small number of people—45 in the case of the south pole station—stick
around to keep the bases running. In a sense, these people who stay the winter
in Antarctica are even more isolated than the astronauts on the International Space
Station. There are few places humans can go where they
are seven months away from medical care, from food, from civilization. Those living and working on the last continent
endure some of the harshest conditions on this earth, but for the pursuit of science,
all this hardship, all this work, and all this cost is worth it. If you want to live and work in Antarctica,
your best shot to get there is if you’re a scientist. In particular, a lot of those working there
are astronomers and the best place to get a basic understanding of astronomy is brilliant.org. Brilliant’s interactive quizzes teach you
by developing your intuition, not by rote memorization. With their straightforward explanations and
simple graphics, you really learn a lot quickly. I usually have a blast while taking a Brilliant
courses—they’re designed to be interesting—and in this astronomy course you can learn things
like how to measure the size of the universe, if life on other planets is possible, and
how everything on earth is actually made of old stars. By going to Brilliant.org/Wendover, you can
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100 Replies to “The Logistics of Living in Antarctica”

  1. I saw a video where US Service members who landed on a fresh water lake in the middle of Antartica. It was during operation high jump.

  2. Is this channel named wendover because the guys behind it like to bend over to do something naughty? What a lame ass name. Lol!

  3. Antarctica doesnt care who recognizes it as whatever, in my opinion no one should own the earth, it is all ours… one day that will be reality, but people are still too closedminded for such a mindset…

  4. ok seriously please stop with the brilliant thing, it costs money and that is not good enough for me, but on the good side, good video I enjoyed it

  5. So only researchers lives there? We need a ski resort built there 🤔🤔🏃‍♀️🏃‍♀️🙄🤫🤫🤫🤐🤐

  6. I just subscribed to your channel… I think you have great content, very educational and informative, certainly keeps one’s mind more open to the whole world!

  7. Scientists need to be the face of science, not celebrities. Bravo to all of the incredible people in Antarctica who have put themselves in harsh living conditions for the ultimate good of mankind. We can’t thank you enough.

  8. All wishing to move to Mars should be required to live two years in Antarctica. If they can take the isolation of Antarctica, they may have a little bit of a chance of not going insane on Mars. What seems so bad living in Antarctica would be considered paradise if it could be that way on Mars. People are clueless as to how bad it would be to live on Mars. I have no friends nor aquaintences. I probably could live on Mars. But I would not want to live in Mars.

  9. Wrong Wendover Productions! The highest temperature on Antarctica was 17.5°C on Esperanza Base on 24 March 2015.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Antarctica

  10. 40 day long convoy trips across a frozen, barren landscape slowly crawling along in your tractor. And then you gotta go back.

    Fuck me. Loneliest job in the solar system.

  11. REAL Secret is, earths magnetic fields collect only on the poles, so such lands have pure extreme energies of earth & solar which pass through those lands, it will be a complete wonderland just like magical land. It can help humans evolution to its completion and also give complete spiritual expirence as magnetic fields will give you a magnetic solar body & take u to the journey of universe. Such pure powerful places always have alien & invisible beings living there who also harness & enjoy those energies so it is a risky place unless you are wise enough to make ur way peacefully. Only in such places people like jesus and prophets are born, those scientists who are there are from secret Brotherhood & royal family close ones inorder to benefit only their group. Its a pure magical place, the philosophical stone, the secret of saints, the secret fire

  12. The real reason Antarctica
    Is being used is to study the dome
    , and or the land that lies
    Beyond the ice
    Shelf
    That keeps
    Our oceans in.. admiral
    Byrd said
    Beyond Antarctic and it’s
    Mountains are continents the size of and bigger then
    The United States

  13. Does anyone know what source of electricity they use there? Do they have have wind turbines, because solar wouldn't work most of the year

  14. Salute to all scientists who work for our Future Generation to live happy life and these scientists r real miracles of us..

  15. At 9:54, why did you say that the average July temperature is -67F or -55C while the graphics show summer temp? Antartica in the south hemisphere, it's winter here during July.

  16. At 9min50sec, you mistakenly write "summer temperature" when mentioning July temperatures. July is winter in the southern hemisphere.

  17. I hate to say it, but 1000 people supposedly doing research in Antarctica's main base sounds ridiculous. I bet it's 100 scientists of various capabilities and 900 support staff to clean up after them. Arguably it's a NASA-type make-work project and robots or remote sensing can accomplish more.

  18. I thought driving eight hours through Kansas was hell. Can’t imagine driving forty DAYS through nothing.

  19. There is land in Antarctica that is warm and people are living there, the Nazis set up a civilization there, check out Operation High Jump and Admiral Byrd

  20. If you've ever seen the 1982 John Carpenter movie The Thing you get an appreciation for the level of "cabin fever" the research team who has to stay there over the 24 hours of darkness during the Antarctic winter time experiences

  21. It is always funny to think, there are some places on this planet where there have been more people on the face of the moon than at on planet earth. And just to think that the astronauts on the ISS have a more direct link to humanity (including internet) than the scientist living on Antarctica in the winter.

  22. Fine, I make a claim for all of Antarctica and since my mom recognizes it, it is my claim. Stay they hell off my property

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