Answering some questions from Hope Valley College

Geoff Evatt | 19 Dec 2019

Many thanks to the students at Hope Valley College for their questions about Antarctica and what it’s like living out there for our field work. Thanks for your interest!

Q1. What is it like to survive in such cold conditions?

A1. It does indeed feel like survival! After all there’s no chance of growing your own food here, and we have to melt ice to make drinking water. As such, when here in Antarctica we are, by necessity, reliant on technology from the warmer parts of the world: travel is generally by planes and skidoos, we wear several layers of clothing and very thick boots, food is freeze-dried food, and ice is melted by burning kerosene. Even going to the bathroom (in a very cold toilet tent) is a different process, as there are no bacteria to break the waste down. And so when camping out here on the ice sheet, some 800km from the nearest base, we are constantly taking advantage of the latest advancements from back home — including the Iridium satellite device that allows me to send this message. But the advantage of all this is that it allows us to do science in a very special place (when the weather is tolerable) — in this particular case, to look for meteorites.  Without these technologies and advancements we would not be able to survive here for long, it’s just too cold and lifeless for us to live without outside help.

Q2. Do you think that climate change is a problem in the Antarctic and if so, do you think it is a problem we need to address as a country?

A2. Yes, climate change is causing the ice sheet to loose mass at an increasing rate and become even less stable (meaning large amounts of ice break off from the continent and into the oceans). The upshot being increasing sea levels  which impacts upon people, towns, and cities elsewhere on earth, particularly in low lying countries. In addition, with larger amounts of fresh water leaving Antarctica and entering the salty oceans, it can make the oceans currents behave differently which can then cause even more heating of the Earth’s atmosphere, and thus even more melting of the ice sheet, and so the problem gets worse and worse. The cause of this is not Antarctica itself, but the level of carbon dioxide that we are all pumping into the atmosphere. Yet given the scale of the problem, it will be change at the national and international government level that is the strongest weapon we have to reduce the impact.  That all said, we don’t need to wait for politicians to get their act together: we can all do our bit, we can all plant trees, which are the ultimate weapon against climate change and help restore the natural world — how about planting some in your garden?

Q3. How do you cope with 24 hour a day sunlight?

A3. It’s hard! Our body clocks are messed up by it. The sun is always high in the sky, making it very hard to sleep. And sleeping in a tent means we can’t escape it by pulling the curtains. The best we have are eye masks, which aren’t too comfortable.