Living in Antarctica

The Naked Scientists spoke to Kate Hendry, University of Oxford
19 November 2006

Interview with 

Kate Hendry, University of Oxford



Helen - We have now on the line Kate Hendry from the University of Oxford, who's going to tell us a little bit about what it's like to be down there. Hi Kate.

Kate - Hi Helen.

Helen - Hi, Now, is it a problem, the fact that it's very, very cold down in Antarctica, that makes research possibly quite hard down there, or are there other things as well that we need to think about?

Kate - Well certainly the cold is one of the important problems, just trying to keep warm when you're out in the field.

Helen - Is it really that cold?

Kate - Well, at the moment it's summer in Antarctica of course so it's not actually that cold. Where I work at Rothera research station, it's usually average between about - 5 and +5 degrees centigrade.

Helen - Oh, so quite warm then.

Kate - In the winter of course it can get to -30, and -40, and it's even worse with the wind chill. So yes, it's certainly very important then.

Helen - Well I suppose we have a lot of modern technology to keep us warm so it's not that bad. Do you ever use hand warmers like we described in kitchen science?

Kate - Unfortunately no, I was listening to that thinking it was a wonderful idea. I might have to try and find some of those

Helen - Apparently people even take them diving which sounds great to me. So yes, it's very cold. Now what other things are problematic about being down in Antarctica?

Kate - Well one of the main things is the isolation really, I mean you're a long way away from anywhere else, so you can't just pop down the shops to pick up spare supplies or anything.

Helen - So psychologically do people tend to get quite loopy down there?

Kate - Not at all, it's quite a good community spirit. I mean the base down there is self-sufficient. There are people there who are the electricians, who are the plumbers and chefs and everyone kind of looks after each other.

Helen - So there's a whole team of people keeping you alive and getting the research done down there. It sounds like you have a good support system. So I suppose you have to plan very carefully because everything has to be brought in, and I assume everything has to be taken out as well. Are there very tight environmental regulations? Because we hear stories sometimes about how tourism has to be regulated quite carefully so as to not cause any more damage in Antarctica than we can possibly help. Is research very tightly coordinated and controlled as well?

Kate - Oh very much so yes the British Antarctic Survey are really careful about making sure all the waste is taken out, so we recycle everything we can, everything separated on base, and it ships out at the end of the season.

Helen - So you take everything back, you don't leave anything behind?

Kate - No, nothing at all

Helen - Excellent. That sounds great. And you enjoy working down there I guess, one final question, to me it sounds a very cold, barren place to be but you always say (I'll admit now that Kate's my sister so I know all about this already, and she comes back just bubbling about the place) so what is it about the place that's so addictive do you think?

Kate - Oh it's very difficult to describe but I suppose it's living in one of the most beautiful places on the planet really. It's a pristine wilderness, I'm sharing my living space with penguins, seals and whales, and in my spare time I can go off skiing and in the mountains so it's a pretty cool place to live.

Helen - Sounds fantastic. So thanks so much Kate for giving us a little glimpse into what life in the Antarctic is like, and good luck with the rest of your research.


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