At -100 degrees F, you’ll survive for less than 3 minutes and burn 5,000 calories a day, and boiling water can turn to snow instantly. And, at less than 1% humidity, your body will lose water just breathing. This is Station Zero: Antarctica, where close-knit communities of scientists, engineers, and hardened field vets have forged an existence unlike anything on our planet.
Above, a team of researchers work to map the inside of Mt. Erebus, the most active volcano in Antarctica. The clip is from National Geographic‘s Continent 7: Antarctica series, a look at how scientists and survival experts work together to understand the extreme and rapidly changing conditions on the continent at the southernmost point on the planet.
Below, field trainer Tom Arnold gives us some background on some of the biggest challenges humans face when working in Antarctica:
Technology gives scientists huge advantages in better understanding the animals living in extreme Antarctic conditions. In this video, Marine Ecologist Ari Friedlaender explains how tagging whales with a smartphone-style device that helps scientists measure and track a wide variety of data from each whale: their size, where they travel, what they do underwater, what and how much they eat, and how the changing climate is impacting their environment and behavior. Whale Tagging and Why It’s Done:
On Antarctica, there are dry valleys that resemble Mars. Science teams take advantage of these cold yet ice free landscapes to learn more about Earth’s microbial life in extreme environments, as well as to learn how the climate data can inform us about climate change and our own adaptation capabilities. A bit more background via the Exploratorium:
Why are the large Dry Valleys (Taylor, Wright, and Victoria) so different from the rest of the continent? The answer lies in the mile-high Transantarctic Mountains. The Valleys are nestled between the mountains, which serve as a barrier, largely blocking them from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Several tongue-like glaciers creep through the gaps, but any ice that breaks off of the glaciers quickly sublimates (goes from solid to vapor, bypassing the liquid stage) in the arid atmosphere.
The Valleys have their own brand of fierce weather, too. They’re bitter cold (temperatures have dropped to as low as –90 degrees Fahrenheit, or about –68° C). The air is extremely dry. Katabatic (high-speed) winds dip down over the ice at the edges of the Valleys, and rip through them at speeds as high as 200 miles (about 322 km) per hour.