Expeditioners welcome winter solstice with icy dip in sub-zero Antarctic waters

Person on edge of ice pool
Preparing for the plunge! (Photo: Daleen Koch)
Chainsawing hole in iceMachine drilling hole in sea icePerson swimming

21st June 2017

Daring Antarctic expeditioners are celebrating the winter solstice with an icy dip in freezing waters at Australia’s research stations.

With the air temperature hovering at −30°C and the water temperature just −1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinters swim.

Davis Station Leader, Kirsten le Mar said midwinter’s day is the halfway point for expeditioners wintering on the continent and a highlight of the Antarctic calendar.

“After three weeks of darkness, today marks the beginning of longer days in Antarctica, although it will still be 19 days before the sun starts to peek above the horizon here at Davis,” Dr le Mar said.

The tradition of midwinter celebrations dates back to the heroic era of exploration, more than a century ago, and is celebrated by expeditioners of all nationalities living on the continent.

At Australia’s Mawson research station a sea ice golf competition will be held and expeditioners will perform a play at Casey while also marking the occasion in their own ‘ice castle’.

The team on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island are marking the return of longer days with a double swim in the Southern Ocean on both sides of the isthmus.

A total of 68 expeditioners are living and working in Antarctica and on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island in support of the Australian Antarctic Program this winter.

Dr le Mar, who is experiencing her first Antarctic winter, said living on the continent over the past few months has been “like finally seeing the picture as a whole”.

“I’ve spent many summers in Antarctica when there is constant daylight, lots of animals and mild conditions,” Dr le Mar said.

“Experiencing the other side of that; the darkness, cold and wild weather is like getting to know an old friend even better, in all their glorious moods. Another great thing is getting to experience other-worldly phenomenon such as the unusual polar clouds, the movement of the sun, the bright stars and the auroras australis, all making our time here simply extraordinary.”

The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) and Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg MP sent video greetings to the expeditioners for their midwinter celebrations.

Back at the Antarctic Division’s headquarters in Kingston, staff will enjoy a midwinters lunch and for the more adventurous, a dip in the Derwent River. Returned expeditioners will also gather around Australia to celebrate midwinters and remember their time with the Australian Antarctic Program.

[Video]

Midwinter swim at Davis research station

Video transcript

Bryce: I’m an electrician working for the Australian Antarctic Division and the swim was amazing. There is the briefest of briefest moments when you slight feel warm, and then you work out that you’re actually freezing instead!

Kirsten: Today we’re celebrating midwinters day, or the winter solstice. This is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. At 68° south where we are, we have 37 days without sun at this time. Our last sunset was 3 June and next sunrise is 10 July.

Midwinters day is a day of celebration for us. It will involve a plunge in the ocean, group photos, a sumptuous feast and then a live theater and band performance. The reason for the swim is that it’s a polar tradition and expeditioners all around Antarctica will take part in the swim today. For us this involves cutting 1m deep hole in the sea ice. The water temperature is -1.8° Celsius, and the air temperature is around -27 °Celsius which gives us a wind chill of -36 °Celsius – so it’s going to be invigorating.

Midwinters day to our group of 17 expeditioners is the highlight of our season. We’re halfway through our winter and it marks longer days and the return of sunshine. This time of year I’d describe Antarctica as cold, dark and extraordinary. We still have civil twilight, so lots of polar clouds, clear sky and beautiful stars and ethereal auroras which are quite other worldly. So a fantastic time to be here and a real joy to experience it all.

Happy midwinters day! 

[end transcript]