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Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, with the highest average elevation among all. It is considered a desert, with annual precipitation of only 200 mm along the coast and far less inland. Only coldadapted plants and animals survive there, including penguins, seals, nematodes, tardigrades, mites, various types of algae and other microorganisms, and tundra vegetation. There are no permanent human residents, but anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at the research stations scattered across the continent. The continent remained largely neglected for the rest of the 19 th century because of its hostile environment, lack of resources, and isolation. In 1959, the Antarctic Treaty—prohibiting military activities and mineral mining, supporting scientific research, and protecting the continent’s ecozone—was signed by 12 countries; to date, 46 countries have signed the treaty. Ongoing experiments are conducted by more than 4,000 scientists of many nationalities, and with various research interests, at the bases of the white desert.

U n i t e d

K i n g d o m

A r g e n t i n a

C h i l e


Permanent station

Territorial Claims

Summer station

Antarctica has no government, although several countries claim sovereignty in certain regions. While a few of these countries have mutually recognised each other’s claims, the validity of these claims is generally not recognised universally.

Unmanned station

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Z e a l a n d

N o r w a y

A u s t r a l i a

Each year, scientists from 27 different nations conduct experiments not reproducible in any other place in the world. In the summer more than 4,000 scientists operate research stations, decreasing to just over 1,000 in the winter. A E P S

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B r a z i l . B u l g a r i a . C h i l e . C h i n a . C z e c h R e p u b l i c . a n y . I n d i a . I t a l y . J a p a n . N e w Z e a l a n d . N o r w a y . a . R u s s i a . S o u t h A f r i c a . S o u t h K o r e a . S p a i n . m . U n i t e d S t a t e s . U r u g u a y

Researchers include biologists, geologists, oceanographers, physicists, astronomers, glaciologists, and meteorologists. Geologists tend to study plate tectonics, meteorites from outer space, and resources from the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Glaciologists are concerned with the study of the history and dynamics of floating ice, seasonal snow, glaciers, and ice sheets. Biologists, in addition to examining the wildlife, are interested in how harsh temperatures and the presence of people affect adaptation and survival strategies in a wide variety of organisms. Medical physicians have made discoveries concerning the spreading of viruses and the body's response to extreme seasonal temperatures. Astrophysicists study the celestial dome and cosmic microwave background radiation. Many astronomical observations are better made from the interior of Antarctica than from most surface locations because of the high elevation, which results in a thin atmosphere, low temperature, which minimizes the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, and absence of light pollution, thus allowing for a view of space clearer than anywhere else on Earth.


Constructed from wood and a stainless steel structure, the station was designed so it could be easily disassembled and shipped out of Antarctica, where a number of its wooden and steel components can be recycled and re-used.

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Princess Elisabeth Base, located on Utsteinen Nunatak in Dronning Maud Land is a Belgian polar station, taken into use on February 15, 2009. The station is built against the Utsteinen ridge that is exposed to gales of up to 186 mph. It can withstand such strong winds through its aerodynamic shape and its foundation anchoring of several meters deep into the permafrost. The upper deck of the building is the actual station and looks over the ridge edge while the lower deck contains a garage for snowcat vehicles and other utilities. The station, designed according to a “zero emission” concept, integrates passive building design—the station’s skin, insulation, shape, orientation and window disposition allowing a comfortable ambient temperature to be maintained inside the building with little energy input—with renewable, carbon-neutral energy sources (wind and solar) run through a smart grid with a programmable logic circuit (PLC) to manage the use of energy in the station. Any excess energy is stored in batteries located inside the central core of the station, a configuration that ensures optimal resource consumption.


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The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is the American scientific research station on the high plateau of Antarctica. This station is located at the southernmost place on the Earth, the Geographic South Pole, at an elevation of 9301 feet above sea level. It is designed to support an array of scientific investigations, from astrophysics to seismology, while accommodating harsh conditions on the polar plateau. Eight inches of snow accumulate every year, without ever melting, in an environment that routinely sees zero humidity and temperatures of –100° F. Winds create snowdrifts that inevitably bury low-lying buildings in months. To meet the challenge of drifting snow, the new station is designed with the profile of a sleek airplane wing. It is elevated and faces into the prevailing near-constant 10 to 15 mph wind, which flows above and below the station. The fast-moving winds beneath the station effectively help scour the area of snow, thereby greatly reducing the need for manual excavation. However, because some snow buildup is inevitable, the building also sits on 36 uniquely designed hydraulic jack columns that allow the 65,000 square-foot structure to be raised in 10 -inch increments, thereby effectively adding decades to its building life. Another problem involves the “ground” supporting the structure. The station sits on a glacier almost two miles deep that slides 33 feet toward the sea each year. As a result, the marker designating the true geographic South Pole must be moved annually. Because different parts of glaciers move at different speeds, buildings are in constant danger of being ripped apart. So the connecting walkways between building modules are designed to be flexible.


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T h e S o u t h P o l e Te l e s c o p e ( S P T ) i s a 3 9 4 i n d i a m e t e r t e l e s c o p e l o c a t e d a t the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. The primary science goal for SPT is to conduct a survey to find several thousand clusters of galaxies, which should allow interesting constraints on the Dark Energy equation of state.



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Halley Research Station, run by the British Antarctic Survey, is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf floating on the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. The first to provide measurements leading to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985, it is a British research facility dedicated to the study of the Earth’s atmosphere. The new station consists of eight individual modules, connected together to form a long, train-like structure. The station’s aerodynamic modules and long, thin shape help minimise the accumulation of snow around the buildings. Each module is held above the snow surface on legs which can be raised and lowered using hydraulic rams. Once a year snow is bulldozed beneath the legs and the whole structure raised, preventing the station from being buried by snow accumulation. As well as moving vertically, Halley VI is the first Antarctic research station designed to be fully relocatable. The legs are mounted on large skis and the modules are connected using flexible connections, similar to those found on train carriages— allowing individual modules to be towed by bulldozers over distances of many miles.

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Halley’s location under the auroral oval, resulting in frequent displays of the Aurora Australis overhead, makes it an exceptional site for studying the E ar th’s magnetic field, upper atmosphere and geospace. T he low levels of electromagnetic and optical noise permit sensitive measurements of Ver y Low Frequency radio waves, airglow, and atmospheric radio absorption, providing a window into the far reaches of the E ar th’s atmosphere.

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