September 22, 2023

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The challenges of holding scientists fed and comfortable in Antarctica

The challenges of holding scientists fed and comfortable in Antarctica


No place on Earth is colder than East Antarctica. Because of its greater elevation, not even West Antarctica can contact its hostile temperatures.

Princess Elisabeth, a polar analysis station within the Queen Maud Land area, faces wind speeds of as much as 155 mph (249 kph) and temperatures as little as -58°F (-50°C). A aptitude for consolation meals is understandably a requisite talent for any chef working on this setting.

“As persons are exterior in extraordinarily chilly temperatures and harsh situations, I wish to make one thing good and heavy for the physique, like fondue and raclette. Plenty of it,” says chef Thomas Duconseille, who mans this distant Antarctic put up for a number of months every year.

When there’s a gaggle of chilly scientists round 3,100 miles from the closest metropolis and at the least 9,900 miles from residence, it is smart that sizzling cheese goes a great distance. If solely the remainder of Duconseille’s culinary duties have been this easy – cooking in these situations comes with distinctive challenges.

Princess Elisabeth is anchored to the ridge beside Utsteinen Nunatak, a mountain generally known as “the outer stone,” within the Sør Rondane mountain vary. Outdoors Duconseille’s workplace window lie icy granite mountains and brilliant white lowlands dotted with in-field lodging items, laboratory containers, and wind generators that sprout from the snow.

Throughout the summer time months of November to February, the glacial, mountainous panorama is bathed in fixed mild – the solar slips behind the ridge for simply three hours a day. Throughout this time, researchers from Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, India and the USA use the encompassing 124 miles of mountains, shoreline, glaciers, and the Antarctic Plateau to conduct scientific analysis and to develop methods to deal with local weather change. Some keep for a number of weeks and others would possibly keep for the season. Duconseille, the resident chef at Princess Elisabeth, is there for the complete 4 months. This yr is his seventh season in Antarctica.

The challenges of holding scientists fed and comfortable in Antarctica

Princess Elisabeth, operated by Brussels-based Worldwide Polar Basis, has been in service since early 2009, making it one of many newer polar analysis stations. Although it could be younger, it’s the world’s first zero-emission polar analysis station, relying solely on renewable power in one of many world’s harshest environments. It’s additionally a sight to behold. Resting atop the ridge, Princess Elisabeth resembles a freshly landed hexagonal spacecraft, its glossy silver panels reflecting the brilliant whites of the polar panorama.

It’s arduous to imagine that inside, there’s brioche baking.

“We put together our personal bread and prepare dinner it right here. Recent bread is essential. I wish to make brioche for breakfast with chocolate inside,” says Duconseille. As a Frenchman, good bread is as a lot a lifestyle at his put up in Antarctica as it’s again residence in Normandy, or within the Alps, the place he spends the higher a part of the yr catering to a different breed of explorers on Mont Blanc.

As Princess Elisabeth is a six-hour flight from the closest metropolis – Cape City, South Africa – Duconseille ensures meat, fish and greens are frozen to final the season and that eggs are saved in five-liter crates with the whites and yolks separated. As for the contemporary elements, a bundle of those valuable items is flown in each month from Cape City – offering the climate isn’t too wild.

Regardless of its altitude – 4,475 toes above sea stage – Princess Elisabeth stays comfortably heat and shielded from the weather because of a sturdy mixture of woolen felt, heavy-duty Kraft paper, aluminum, wooden panels, polystyrene, waterproofing membrane, polyethylene foam, and chrome steel.

“Throughout the summer time months, we don’t want to make use of heating contained in the station, as a result of all of the radiation from the solar, and our personal presence contained in the station, is sufficient to keep an inside temperature of 20-21°C (68-69.8°F),” says Henri Robert, a science liaison officer at Princess Elisabeth.

Via a hybrid system of 9 wind generators and 408 photo voltaic photovoltaic panels, the power of 100 days of round the clock sunshine and ferocious gusts of wind is harnessed to energy the station.

“We at present have the solar all day lengthy as we’re decrease than the Arctic Circle. Fortunately, there’s this mountain to the south of us, so the solar goes behind it and we get a little bit of shade for a few hours, after which the solar rises once more. Nevertheless it by no means goes beneath the horizon,” says Robert, a local of Belgium.

The station is the world's first zero-emission polar research station, relying solely on renewable energy in one of the world's harshest environments.

To achieve Princess Elisabeth, the crew flies from Cape City on a DC-3 airplane, an plane well-suited to transporting cargo and maneuvering icy runways. The flight takes somewhat over six hours after which it’s a 90-minute journey from the airstrip to the station. Recent meals together with greens and milk can be transported utilizing the DC-3, and this operation is repeated each month (climate allowing).

It’s a set-up which may strike concern into the hearts of those that repeatedly depend on that last-minute sprint to the grocery retailer for that forgotten handful of contemporary herbs or cup of thickened cream, however Duconseille has tailored to the pains of the job.

“Increasingly more, I’ve grown used to ready a month between contemporary meals deliveries. Years in the past, after I first began the job, it was tough as a result of contemporary meals wears quick. With expertise, I do know what is going to go unhealthy first, so for the primary week, we’ve got a whole lot of contemporary salads. I handle it so I could make these elements final so long as potential. Over these 4 weeks, I’m able to handle, and till the fourth week I can nonetheless supply one thing appetizing to eat,” says Duconseille.

The meals Duconseille prepares at Princess Elisabeth are different, together with soups, meats, pizza, salads, quiches, and desserts. “There’s all the time a vegetarian or vegan possibility – so everyone has a range to select from,” says Duconseille. For particular events, like Christmas and New Yr’s, the chef prepares dishes together with foie gras, turkey with stuffing, and iced nougat.

“As a shopper, I can say it’s like being in a restaurant. It’s great – it’s a full dinner,” says Robert.

The station sometimes sees between 20 to 30 crew members without delay, however through the years the amenities have expanded to help 45 to 50 folks. Crew members alternate serving to Duconseille within the kitchen by setting the desk, drying and storing dishes, or peeling massive portions of potatoes. Sustenance is a gaggle effort.

Given the isolation of the station and the fluctuating crew numbers, it’s essential {that a} reserve of staple meals is maintained from season to season. Transporting long-lasting and non-perishable gadgets like grains, beans, and tinned tomatoes to the station is a unique beast to the month-to-month contemporary meals drops.

Some provisions arrive in shipping containers from Belgium.

“From Belgium, we refill transport containers with a considerable amount of dried and frozen meals and each different yr, a ship arrives and provides us with these elements,” says Duconseille.

On the station, meals is saved downstairs, the place there’s a massive room with shelving for the dry meals, a freezer concerning the dimension of a transport container (-13°F), and a smaller fridge (41-44°F). “We even have fridges that we have to heat up as a result of many elements like sure fruits can’t be frozen,” says Duconseille.

Duconseille doesn’t plan meals prematurely, however maintains a powerful meals stock, so he is aware of precisely what’s within the financial institution. The dear nature of the contemporary elements implies that the place requires adaptability and creativity.

“I prepare dinner by feeling – relying on the variety of folks there, or what meals will likely be going unhealthy quickly. All of it is determined by what we’ve got,” says Duconseille.

As there’s a vary of polar landscapes to be studied in jap Antarctica, scientists at Princess Elisabeth head out on common area journeys. The chef performs a significant position within the success of those expeditions.

“These area journeys can take two-three weeks and contain 4 to 6 folks. For this, I have to estimate the meals they are going to want away from the station. Each time I prepare dinner a big meal, I freeze parts in order that researchers can take these, defrost, and revel in, while not having to waste useful time within the area,” says Duconseille.

Crew members at the station conduct scientific research and develop strategies to address climate change.

For the previous decade, Duconseille has been a supervisor at various mountain huts within the French Alps, together with Mont Blanc’s Goûter Hut, the very best wardened mountain hut in France.

“I’ve all the time been drawn to atypical landscapes, stunning areas, locations at altitude. It’s a small world – the world of people that do that work in these areas – so one other prepare dinner advised the station’s director about me. Working at one place can open new doorways, and that’s how I received from the Alps to Antarctica,” says Duconseille.

Outdoors of the Antarctic summer time, he continues his work within the French Alps, offering meals, lodging and help to folks mountain climbing one of many 5 routes up Mont Blanc, which rises to fifteen,771 toes (4,807 meters).

The Princess Elisabeth crew works six days per week. Relying on the situations, Sunday is enjoyable day. The workforce is free to accompany area guides and go to the neighboring nunataks, the mountain ridges that emerge from the ice like bony plates on a stegosaurus’ again.

Conditions at Princess Elisabeth station can be brutal.

“I take pleasure in strolling within the mountains with the remainder of the group, and I’m additionally a runner, so I like going for a run on the 1.2-mile-long airstrip. However normally, on Sunday, I’ll learn, take a nap, and put together for the week forward,” says Duconseille.

A number of the workforce take pleasure in cross-country snowboarding. Some take it up a notch, and head to the big slope, for alpine snowboarding. After all, there are not any ski lifts, so what goes down should come up – that’s if you would like a second lap. Robert, a biologist and birdwatcher, seizes the chance of getting such uncommon entry to the White Continent.

“We’ve 124 miles of ice earlier than we attain the coast. All through this space, we’ve got stunning wildlife, colonies of birds breeding proper right here – so we’re not completely alone. It’s all the time thrilling to come back right here as a result of I’m captivated with birds. When I’ve the prospect, I am going to the nunatak and observe the birds which can be breeding there, or I’ll relaxation on Sunday. All of it is determined by the climate,” says Robert.

Fresh food including vegetables and milk arrives via DC-3 every month (weather permitting).

Duconseille’s expertise managing remoted mountain refuges has ready him for the a part of the job that goes past offering sustenance: creating a house removed from residence.

With subglacial lakes, katabatic winds, and a 300-mile-wide crater rumored to be hidden beneath the jap ice sheet, Antarctica is extra than simply the world’s most remoted continent: it might look like one other planet fully. Whereas the station is comfy and nicely outfitted (Robert described it as being “very nice… like a chalet in Switzerland”), the intense isolation, unpredictable polar climate, and months away from residence and family members can put on down even probably the most intrepid.

“In Antarctica, meals is essential for workforce morale – it is very important guarantee persons are comfortable across the desk and collect collectively after a protracted day. I wish to prepare dinner desserts and desserts so that individuals may be comfortable on the finish of the day,” says Duconseille.

If the chef spends his time bringing pleasure to the crew within the type of golden brioche and molten cheese, what’s it that brings him pleasure?

“It’s arduous for the primary few days after I go away my household. However when you arrive, you’re on this setting the place you’re work-focused and captivated by the attractive environment. Life is thrilling, there’s all the time one thing occurring. We’re taking good care of lots of people and scientific actions.”

Leaving Antarctica once more is bittersweet.

“On the finish of summer time, we’re comfortable to come back residence, but it surely’s a combined feeling: we’re unhappy to go away Antarctica,” says Duconseille. “It’s an unbelievable setting and a singular life that we’ve got right here.”