Lately, it seems like every few months there’s a new movie coming out about what it takes to survive in the most extreme conditions.
You’d think I’d be tired of the theme by now, but from Matt Damon’s The Martian to Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant, I’ve lined up to see every single one. And I’m in good company.
There’s something incredibly life-affirming about watching humans survive through sheer willpower and ingenuity, despite almost insurmountable odds. That’s why the story of Balto the life-saving sled dog still resonates almost a century later.
Even more amazing? These stories aren’t just confined to fiction and distant history. Right now, at this very moment, 12 brave souls are surviving in one of the harshest environments the earth has to offer: Antarctica.
They aren’t survivalists or renegades, at least not in the traditional sense. They’re the crew of Concordia Station, one of the southernmost outposts of human civilization in the world.
Concordia is one of three research stations located at the South Pole, in the vastness of the Antarctic continent. It’s a destination for scientists, medical doctors, explorers, and aerospace researchers, who use the extremely remote environment to gather information about how astronauts will respond to similarly isolated environs in outer space.
For six months of the year, the station is accessible by airplane and receives abundant sunlight. For the other six months, it is completely physically cut-off from the outside world, and submerged into near-total darkness. The station is staffed anywhere from 10 to 15 people who must commit to lasting through at least six months of nighttime and isolation. The process is called “overwintering” and generally lasts from February to September.
For the 2015 season, one of the staffers was a British scientist named Beth Healey, who committed to Concordia to study the effects of extremes of cold, isolation, and altitude on the human physiology and psyche. The overwintering that year lasted from February to November before the next team arrived to get the lay of the land. In that time, Healey captured dozens of photos that create a remarkable account of life at the South Pole.
Researchers have to take advantage of sunlight and relatively “warm” weather when they have it. On days where it’s safe to go out, travel might involve going short distances on cross-country skis to take samples and measurements.
Longer and more labor-intensive journeys, meanwhile, require the use of Caterpillar-style machines designed for crawling across ice, navigating rough terrain, and moving large amounts of ice and snow.
CAT-style machines might be employed in projects like digging massive trenches into the landscape to allow the research team to collect samples.
Staffers who go out on these expeditions face bitterly cold temperatures at any time of the year. The warmest temperature ever recorded at Concordia was minus 5 Fahrenheit, and it is generally much colder. Anyone facing the brutal cold wears a plethora of specialized snow gear to keep the weather at bay long enough to collect data.
Of course, with only a dozen or so staffers, expeditions outside of the station, even into the bitter cold, are an opportunity for an excursion. Half the crew might go on an expedition, both for safety’s sake and for the chance to get some fresh air and sunlight. And… to ham it up in an awesome selfie, of course!
In fact, when you’re trapped in the most extreme climate on Earth, selfies seem to be the name of the game. We can only assume that you get a pretty severe case of cabin fever in Concordia, what better way to blow off steam than by goofing off and posing for silly photos in your downtime?
And since it’s a permanent snow day out there, good weather is also an excellent excuse to get outside and take advantage of all that snow just lying around by making a snow fort that would inspire envy in any kid who ever prayed for school to be cancelled.
Indoors, the team passes the time with an ample stock of books and movies, not to mention their on-going research projects. If they get hungry for social interaction, they might call up some friends in outer space like these ISS astronauts. Many of the arctic researchers are sponsored by the European Space Agency to do research on isolated environments.
Teams swap out during the warmer summer months, when airplanes can finally start traveling to Concordia again. Here, Beth Healey welcomes one of the station’s new recruits in November 2014, Floris van den Berg. Van den Berg and the 12 members of his team just entered the overwintering period for 2016, which started in late February.
All we can say is, he has a long, cold winter to look forward to. But we must admit, if you have to endure sub-freezing temperatures, there can’t be a more beautiful place in the world to do it!
If you’re stunned by this gorgeous images of life at it’s most extreme, don’t forget to SHARE with the adventurous spirits in your life!