The Three American Bases in Antarctica

There are American field camps and the like in Antarctica but for the most part everyone works on one of three bases. Here’s what I’ve gathered about each:

Palmer Station

Palmer station is the only base that is north of the Antartic circle. That means that it’s warmer than other bases.

Temperatures here range in the summer from just below freezing to above 40 degrees Farenheit and in the winter range from freezing to negative 14. That’s really warm in comparison to the other options.

However, this increase in temperature means that Palmer receives 32 inches of precipitation per year. It’s windy and wet with both snow and rain. The other bases do not see this is it’s too cold to rain or snow there.

The only way to get to Palmer is via ship as there is no air landing strip, however Palmer Station is the only base with year-round transportation. Their winter population is only 20 people with 44 in the summer but they get frequent visits from tour ships and sailing yachts. Many of these leave from Chile which is approximately a 5-day journey.

Palmer also has the most abundant wildlife of any of the bases with plenty of birds, seals, and even whales.

Living at Palmer would possibly mean the ability to take small boats out on off days to see whales and the like in person.

Personally, I love the idea of the wildlife and getting to go out onto the water, but Palmer is the smallest of all the bases and the wettest. I don’t mind being cold but wet AND cold to me means not being outside enjoying the wilderness as much. Plus… only 20 people in the winter? Hmmmm

EDIT: After talking to many people that have lived at Palmer, it’s become a place at which I want to do a season or two. The wildlife alone apparently makes it spectacular.

South Pole

The next step up in size is the South Pole Station. The winter population here is 40 during the winter (double Palmer!) and 150 in the summer.

The coldest of all the bases, South Pole Station’s mean annual temperature is negative 56 degrees Farenheit. Temperatures average -18 degress in the summer and -76 in the winter. The record high was 9.9 degrees Farenheit recorded in 2011 (record low was -117 in 1982). Brrrr.

The average wind speed at South Pole Station is 10.8 knots.

The base is located at an altitude over 9,000 feet which for many means altitude sickness upon arrival as your body is not given a chance to aclimate.

Travel to the base is through McMurdo Station. One flies to McMurdo from New Zealand and then on to South Pole Station. The remote location means that internet access is sporadic and only occurs when there is satellite cover.

Water conservation at the South Pole is very important so each occupant is limited to two 2-minute showers each week. Hellllloooooo hairy legs.

McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station is the largest. The winter population here is the size of the summer population at South Pole; it ranges from 130 to 200 people with the summer population being just under 1,000. When I arrived in June we had 139 people on station. In July this went up to 167. August flights will bring us up to around 320.

Temperatures here fall between the other two stations. The mean annual temperature is 0 degrees Farenheit. In the summer temperatures can reach a balmy 46 degrees Farenheit and in the winter about -58 degrees. 46? That’s not bad. I was out yesterday in a t-shirt in 46 degrees.

Wind here averages 12 knots (~14mph) but may exceed 100 knots (~115mph).

The scenery here includes an active volcano: Mt. Erebus.

2 miles away from McMurdo Station is a rare site: another base! Here you will find Scott base run by New Zealand. Every Thursday night Scott Base holds “Yank Night” where the Americans can come to drink on their base.

Once the last plane leaves for the winter that’s it. You’re cut off from the rest of the world (which means South Pole Station is too).

 

post image source (McMurdo at night)

2 responses to “The Three American Bases in Antarctica

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