Facing the challenge of winter in Antarctica

Plane taking off over flags
Nations operating in Antarctica collaborate across both science and operations. (Photo: British Antarctic Survey)
Chinese expeditioners visit CaseyHaggs covered in snow

Surviving the depths of winter on the world’s most inhospitable continent will be discussed at an international Antarctic meeting in India next week (16 – 20 August).

The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) brings together countries operating in Antarctica to share expertise and knowledge, identify opportunities for collaboration and build strong working relationships.

Australian Antarctic Division Support and Operations General Manager and COMNAP Vice-Chair, Dr Rob Wooding, said the upcoming meeting will focus on operating stations through the challenging winter months.

“An increasing number of nations are operating in Antarctica year-round, so we will discuss some of the difficulties expeditioners face, such as living in the semi-darkness and isolation for long periods,” Dr Wooding said.

“There’s also issues with maintaining station infrastructure during winter and undertaking science projects in such an extreme environment.”

The Australian Antarctic Division will profile its unique recruitment selection centre process, which is designed to ensure candidates with the right skills can also meet the challenges of living and working in Antarctica.

“Over a 24 hour period, job applicants wintering at Australian stations are put through a series of scenarios to assess how they respond to authority, how they handle community living and their willingness to support the aims of the Australian Antarctic Program.

“Since the introduction of the selection centre process in 2003, we have observed a considerable decrease in interpersonal issues on station.”

The annual meeting of COMNAP also allows Antarctic nations to refine how they work together during an emergency.

“Strong working relationships and sharing of logistical resources are critical in emergency situations in a remote operating environment like Antarctica,” Dr Wooding said.

“For example, when Australia’s icebreaker, Aurora Australis grounded during a blizzard at Mawson research station last season, the Division was able to call on the support of our COMNAP colleagues.

“We worked with the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition, the United States Antarctic Program and the Chinese Antarctic Administration to help evacuate the expeditioners from the ship and return them back to Australia.

“This type of support and collaboration is critical for the safe operation of all Antarctic nations.”

COMNAP is being hosted in Goa, India from 16 – 20 August. The meeting will be attended by representatives from more than 30 Antarctic programs.