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. The picture showing the flags of the original Treaty signatory countries are missing three countries that was also part of the group, namely Japan, Belgium and South Africa.

  2. Did that guy practice the faggy way he says Antarctica. Talk about sexual harassment. This guy exudes this narcissistic need for everyone to realize just how important dick in his mouth or ass is and his delusional view that his sodomite behavior somehow makes him a celebrity. NOT.

  3. I wouldn't mind staying isolated there for 9 months. The banks can call me all they want, they can reach me there…

  4. International Zone, until U.S.A. finds OIL, Gold, or Uranium there … then it belongs to America ! 😀 USA ! USA ! USA !

  5. Build the Worlds First Over Ocean Floating Submarine monorail Train from NZ to McMurdo – just tell some Gah-Zillionaire Billionaire it can't be done and get him to build it. 🙂 Then start shipping 100 times more stuff through all good weather times. Build full space station type green houses that can withstand storms and are artificially lighted and powered to grow delicious hydroponic salad crops. Good practice for all the space exploration programs.

  6. Actually, your easiest option to work in Antarctica is to NOT be a scientist. Scientists are always competing for a spot to go the The Ice. Your best bet is to apply for a support job. There are scientists but the support staff significantly outnumbers the scientists. At McMurdo, we had cooks, janitors, firefights, maintenance people, etc, etc. I did IT at McMurdo. Greatest experience I've ever had and wow, you get paid very well. The only thing you pay for there is booze and various personal hygiene things. I left The Ice with $25,000 and that was what I was paid during my summer there.

  7. *Talking about Russian bases in Antarctica away from the coast
    *Only showing those bases that are on the coast and not showing Vostok station
    Y'know, that's just wrong. Don't do that again, ok?

  8. Stays dark for 24 hours a day during the winter. I think I’ve seen enough movies that vampires are to come out and try to wipe out the entire village population in one night.

  9. If there r only 10 then there is one at YYR been chilling here for a while and yes it has skiis

  10. There was a movie with James Arnes (Gunsmoke) in it and he played the ALIEN from outer space….name that movie. No google search.

  11. … Is it not normal to live in Antarctica? I moved here because someone in a flying plate thingy said that I could have free internet and very powerful Alienware PC's.

  12. ARE YOU ASIAN YOU FUNNY..CAUSE YOU STUPID…NOBODIES ALLOWED SPIRITS OF DEAD BEINGS…NORWAY ALASKA..SYR LANVKAS..

  13. I think that is me at the nose of the plane, the short guy lol. Been down there a few times on the C-17 and one of them was on this one from McChord AFB.

  14. When I looked around fro crime rates in Antarctica most of it seemed to involve too much alcohol, indecent exposure, etc. Some are more interesting like about 2 Russian scientists who were playing chess in Vostok. One of them got so enraged he attacked the other with an ice axe. But that may just be because Russians.

  15. Grass grows there in places, blocked from google earth and the ice sheets are bigger than since recorded. Not being told everything.

  16. Mentioned Australia has the largest claim in Antarctica, then never mentions its bases, ports of embarkation or anything else Australian.

  17. Call me Cynical Sally, but there's no mining or oil operations on Antarctica because its too risky and expensive, not because there's some bumfuck treaty on it. What would happen if BP decided to drill there or explore for mining? United Nations tears? I'm sure they're really scared.

    What about as you said, 98% of it is covered by ice that you need to get through before you can find, you know, oil or metals? Or if they did, the cost for the oil they extract is like… I don't know… 20X the value?

  18. This idiot, he said space wad international territory. HAHA! Real intellectuals know its owned by Russia. Duh.

  19. Antarctica is during the winter really the most isolated place on earth. Astronauts on the ISS can get to earth in a few days/hours but if you're on the south pole, you're alone.

  20. at least you have air and Oxygen in Antarctica and of course water that you don’t need to transport and also you have penguins to eat. I hope they have WiFi

  21. I guess you forgot to mention the Brazilian Antarctic Program which maintains, year round, a station in Antarctica called Comandante Ferraz, and it is one of the consultative party to the Antarctic Treaty since 1983.

  22. False, a Claim stands true so long as no other entities object to it. If I land on an asteroid I can claim it as my own and it is valid until another human or entity makes their own claim on the asteroid, then we can decide which claim is superior via who made the first claim on the space rock or we can battle over it, but in the end a claim of any kind most certainly does not need recognition from others to be valid.

  23. How can you possibly know weather Human eyes have seen Antarctica or not? There is evidence of Human presence on Earth for millions of years. Why are such bullshit statments always a staple of such videos?

  24. You said nothing about all the Argentinian Bases in Antarctica. You also never mentioned that there are also flights and ships that leave, to and from Antarctica from Usuaia, Argentina. That is the southernmost City and the closest one to Antarctica in the entire world. I notice a lot of your videos are very good, but they are also very politically manipulated. I didn't give you a thumbs down, but I couldn't give you a thumbs up either.

  25. USA should buy the ice and wait to melt when the liberal global warming comes.
    Its like buying stock market, you dont now when your stocks nose dive.
    Melt dive!

  26. Great video. And THANK YOU for the pop up boxes putting temperatures and measurements into metric. So many American film makers forget that almost nobody outside of the US understands your system of weights and measures. There's nothing wrong with using them as long you don't presume the rest of the world understands what you're talking about.

  27. In the first minute, you got two things wrong. Antarctica is on Maps more than 2000 years old, and There is very good evidence left by individuals of the time that people were there.

  28. The sun round the moon round the stars round any planet that came close enough round but earth flat 😂😂😂😂 if y'all say so

  29. I do t recall hearing him talk about all the ice melting…………must be a news media Hoax. South Pole -67 degrees!

  30. Most people living on Antarctica are scientists, engineers and doctors which makes Antarctica the smartest continent on Earth.

  31. My friend at school who said he’s been to Antarctica from South Africa when he was 10 years old expected everyone to believe him.

  32. Internation zone in the boating coarse states that about 50 miles out of the US can be a trash dump. It states no dumping within 50 miles of the US.

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