Saturday, 18 December 2010


Judging by the map on the lowest floor I'd guess we're roughly 600 km
from the geomagnetic south pole and over three times that distance
from the geographic south pole. Vostok, the Russian base, is the
closest Antarctic habitation, roughly around 500 km away.
The base is built on ice 3,200 metres deep, which rests on land that
lies a little below sea level. It's accumulated through 900,000 years
of snow fall (I have been given a tube of water that fell as snow here
the same year Jesus died). Concordia was built here because Dome C,
as the region is called, has the best view of the night sky on the
planet. It's wind is low, weather is very stable, the Aurora
Australis is rarely seen here. Last winter the temperature fell to
-84. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth is -89, at Vostok.Concordia consists of two cylindrical towers connected by a bridge at
the lowest floor, with an outbuilding at one end housing most of
the generators. Each tower is 14 metres tall and three storeys high.
They stand three metres above the snow on legs that can move
individually up and down, to compensate for any snow subsidence that
could tilt the base, and so that the base can be raised up rather than be buried,
as the snow collects year after year. The walls are made of insulating material
capable of coping with a roughly 100 degree centigrade temperature
difference between the inside and the outside.
The lowest floor is pretty industrial looking. Or maybe more like
the engineering compartments of a ship. Rooms with generators and
machinery; pipes run parallel along the walls in a colourful chaos of
trunks, branch lines, bundles and tangles and gauges. Around the level
you see the squat, massive rams for moving the legs, each at the
bottom of a pillar that disappears into the roof. There are workshops
and technicians offices tucked in between the major structural
elements. The corridors are lined with hanging goose-down suits and
insulated boots, message boards, maps, signs, sinks, racks, shelves,
electronic server stacks, pots, cabinets, cables, tanks and exposed parts of the
building's frame amongst the pipes. You can hardly see the walls. The
floor is steel and quite quiet to walk on. There is a hum from the
machinery but not loud. The corridors are comfortably wide enough and
the main corridor zig-zags, which I think helps to make the place feel
larger.Steep aluminium flights of stairs lead up into the towers. One tower
is designated the noisy tower and is closer to all the machinery, the
other designated the quiet tower. Upstairs in the noisy tower are a
small but pretty decent gym, a games/cinema room, and on the top floor
the lounge, kitchen and cafeteria. In the quiet tower is a very well
kitted out hospital and offices at the bottom, the middle floor houses
16 bedrooms and the top has the radio room and laboratories. The walls
are made of well fitted, clean new looking metal panels coated in
beige or green. And there is a pleasant spread of pictures
everywhere, held up by magnets. In our bedrooms the furniture is made
of a very good looking dark, thick plywood,.
There is plenty natural light in all the rooms that we occupy, and it
feels like there is plenty space. Architecturally, this place is
impressive. Of course to maximise space you often find things like the
showers in odd places.The base is abuzz. The lowest floor is very busy. People everywhere
moving efficiently and cheerfully about their work. Scientists going
between instruments outside and labs inside; technicians maintaining
and upgrading the base; There are 32 people staying inside the base,
and maybe another 10-20 staying outside in heated tents and working in
and around the base by day. And yesterday a 'raid' arrived; a convoy
of snow adapted vehicles and trailers on tracks and skids that have
made a 10 day journey from Dumond D'Urville with supplies, whose crew
now add to our numbers.Mealtimes are a very friendly hubbub. The chef used to cook in a
London restaurant in the city, award winning. Good food, good humour.So this is home, for the next 363 days.
Or therabouts, this is antarctica after all.
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