When researchers’ work takes them to frigid regions far from civilisation, they don’t always have permanent stations at their disposal. As such, from time to time a mobile ice camp seems to magically appear on the Riiser Larsen Ice Shelf – the Drescher Station. It primarily consists of red prefabricated igloos – or “tomatoes”, as the researchers affectionately refer to them.
The ice camp is established in the hindmost area of the “Drescher Inlet” on the eastern coast of the Weddell Sea – a trench in the Riiser Larsen Ice Shelf measuring 25 kilometres long and up to three kilometres across – because it has proven to be a highly stable site.
The fibreglass igloos are completely assembled in the course of their voyage on board the Research Vessel Polarstern; as such, they can then be transported with all of the necessary equipment inside by helicopter. Once on the ice, they can be set up in just a few hours, and can be taken down just as quickly when the research campaign is over.
Seals and penguins
At the camp, zoologists especially investigate questions concerning the eating habits and diving behaviour of Weddell seals and emperor penguins – both of which live in colonies nearby. The longest campaign to date involved five researchers who stayed for 53 days. For safety purposes, the minimum team size is four members.
The scientists use three of the red igloos as living quarters; a fourth “tomato” serves as kitchen, pantry and community room. While there is a separate igloo for the radio and computer, when it comes to toilet facilities, the team has to make do with a tent.
Since it would be far too difficult to transport sufficient drinking water to the Antarctic, melted snow is used instead. Two five-kilowatt generators, used alternatively, deliver the electricity needed for the snowmelts and other equipment, while deep fryers supply hot meals. However, the researchers spend most of their time out in the ice and snow – when they get their clothes and gear wet in the process, fan dryers are called for.
Two snowmobiles and Nansen sledges are used for the fieldwork. Depending on the weather conditions, the camp can consume up to 25 litres of petrol and 1.5 kilogrammes of gas a day. All glass, plastic, metal, paper, sewage and food waste is kept in separate tubs and later brought back to the ship. The team leaves nothing behind when it goes.