Life on an Antarctic station varies tremendously, depending on site logistics, a country’s resources, and availability of supplies. Some stations are little more than storage containers or primitive huts, providing only the most basic protection for short visits. Others are the height of modern convenience, with private rooms, showers and a range of recreational facilities. Communiciation varies from the latest technologies to virtually none at all.
Of the thousands of scientists and support staff living “on the ice” many are there only for the summer, or part of it. They come from wide range of backgrounds possessing different yet essential skills. Naturally, each country organizes its programs in a unique manner. The UK, Germany, Russia and Japan all have major polar research institutes, which provide most of the scientists and the support staff. Other countries such as the US, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, Argentina, Chile and Brazil hire most of their scientists from universities, while civilian or military sources make up most of their support systems. Australia and Norway have a mixed system, with a research institute that organizes the programs and provides a limited umber of scientists, with the balance of the researchers coming from universities. Two countries, the Netherlands and Belgium, have neither stations nor ships, but instead reserve places for their scientists on the expeditions organized by other countries.
Obviously, the primary focus of life in Antarctica is scientific research. However, the logistics of day to day living in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet requires attention to details and teamwork to keep a station running smoothly. Without a committed and diligent support staff to perform day to day operations and maintenance duties, Antarctic research would not succeed.
For those who overwinter in Antarctica, in addition to focusing on research projects, there are opportunities to develop hobbies, to acquire new skills, and to learn to ski and travel over snow. For many stations, the sun is below the horizon and all of the encampments have been cut off from the rest of the world for months. While this means that certain precautions must always be taken, life can also be less hectic and there is more time for relaxation. Midwinter crews often develop a cohesiveness and rapport that is unique.