Working and living in the eternal ice

Despite the adverse conditions in the Antarctic, the Alfred Wegener Institute maintains a station where researchers can live and work year-round: the Neumayer Station III. Located on the Ekström Ice Shelf in the Atlantic sector of the Antarctic, the station commenced operation in 2009 and is the central basis of German Antarctic research.

Up in the air

The entire Neumayer Station III is built on a platform above the snow-covered surface. Engineers adjust the station’s 16 hydraulic supports on a regular basis, allowing it to adapt to changes in snow cover and constantly remain ca. six metres above the ice – and to avoid the fate of earlier stations, which were gradually deformed by the shifting snow masses.

The station’s external hull conceals a total of one hundred containers, arranged in two vertical levels and with a broad range of functions: living and sleeping quarters, hospital, kitchen, mess hall, radio room and sanitary facilities. Several containers spread over two storeys house the central power plant. A large garage below the station offers shelter for the fleet of caterpillar trucks and Skidoos – vehicles specially designed for use in the polar regions.

During the Antarctic summer, up to 50 people live and work at the station – in the winter, only a skeleton crew remains: a cook, three engineers, a doctor and four researchers form the “overwintering team”.

Within the station, the researchers work in offices and laboratories – but the fieldwork on the ice is at the heart of their efforts. As such, observatories for geophysics, hydroacoustic and meteorological research have been installed in the immediate vicinity of the station. There is also a trace elements observatory – here, researchers constantly measure which climate-relevant gases, and how much of each, are present in the Antarctic air.

Cutting-edge technology

In order to support extended research stays and to keep the station’s footprint in the fragile climate of the Antarctic to a minimum, the AWI made modern and robust technology a priority when it came to the station’s infrastructure.

A wind turbine supports the station’s combined heat and power unit, supplying up to 30 kilowatts of additional, renewable energy – except during storms, when the blades turn away from the wind to avoid damage. To reduce the emissions of the diesel generators, further turbines are to be added to the Neumayer Station III in the future. The heat and power unit’s diesel generators are equipped with catalytic converters.

Melting drinking water from snow

The station personnel acquire their drinking water with the help of a snowmelt; utilising the heat produced by the generators, it has a capacity of up to eight cubic metres. To keep the Antarctic clean for future generations and to avoid contaminating the research area, all of the station’s rubbish and electronic waste is collected in large containers. These are then brought by the research icebreaker to the closest available port – usually Cape Town or Punta Arenas – so that the refuse can be properly disposed of. More problematic waste like fluorescent bulbs is shipped back to Bremerhaven for special disposal.

Polar night – polar day

The station is over 2,000 kilometres from the geographic South Pole. From 15 November to 27 January, the polar day, the sun never sets on the station; from 21 May to 22 July, the sun never shows its face, and the long polar night endures.

Lowest temperature

The lowest temperature record documented at Neumayer-Station III was minus 50.2 degree Celsius. Our meteorologist measured this minimal temperature on the 8th. July 2010.