Life on the Ice

Last summer I wrote a report for COMNAP, the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes, about the evolution of Antarctic Station Design. I was interested to know why stations look the way they do – whether they are build on rocks, up on stilts, under the ground, or a combination of the above. In many cases this comes down to the location, as there is no one building solution that suits every site in the Antarctic, but I did identify some trends and techniques that have been used by a range of National Antarctic Programmes over time, roughly in the same order (going from building on grade, to building for burial, to building on stilts, to a hybrid of stilts and underground spaces).

This is the research I’ll be presenting next week, as part of the SCAR Open Science Conference here in my home town of Auckland. It also ties in nicely with the IceLab exhibition, which is coming to Canterbury Museum as part of IceFest later this year. I’ll write more about this topic once I’ve actually seen the exhibition, but for now it’s good to know that my report is available to those who are interested to have a read. As for all the conferences and meeting happening between now and November – well, NZ is a real icy hub this year, even if our ski fields have been experiencing less than optimal snowfalls!

Examining how Antarctic station design has developed from 1957 to the present can provide an insight into both the needs (material and social) of those who have lived on ‘The Ice,’ and the variety of ways humans have interacted with the Antarctic environment itself. Whether stations were rebuilt, renovated or newly built, their design has responded to the challenges at hand. This paper presents a survey of the challenges encountered when dealing with human habitation in the Antarctic, including the physical environment and social, political and financial drivers, and examines how those challenges have been overcome in a range of ways.

The image is of Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Station. To find out more or to read the whole report, visit the COMNAP website.

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