The challenges of retaining scientists fed and blissful in Antarctica


No place on Earth is colder than East Antarctica. Due to its larger 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 ability for any chef working on this atmosphere.

“As people are outside in extremely cold temperatures and harsh conditions, I like to make something nice and heavy for the body, like fondue and raclette. Lots of it,” says chef Thomas Duconseille, who mans this distant Antarctic publish for a number of months annually.

When there’s a bunch of chilly scientists round 3,100 miles from the closest metropolis and a minimum of 9,900 miles from residence, it is sensible that scorching cheese goes a great distance. If solely the remainder of Duconseille’s culinary duties have been this simple – 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. Outside Duconseille’s workplace window lie icy granite mountains and shiny white lowlands dotted with in-field lodging models, laboratory containers, and wind generators that sprout from the snow.

During the summer season months of November to February, the glacial, mountainous panorama is bathed in fixed gentle – the solar slips behind the ridge for simply three hours a day. During this time, researchers from Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, India and the United States use the encircling 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 couple of weeks and others may keep for the season. Duconseille, the resident chef at Princess Elisabeth, is there for the complete 4 months. This 12 months is his seventh season in Antarctica.

Princess Elisabeth, operated by Brussels-based International Polar Foundation, has been in service since early 2009, making it one of many newer polar analysis stations. Though 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 smooth silver panels reflecting the brilliant whites of the polar panorama.

It’s onerous to consider that inside, there’s brioche baking.

“We prepare our own bread and cook it here. Fresh bread is important. I like to make brioche for breakfast with chocolate inside,” says Duconseille. As a Frenchman, good bread is as a lot a lifestyle at his publish in Antarctica as it’s again residence in Normandy, or within the Alps, the place he spends the higher a part of the 12 months catering to a different breed of explorers on Mont Blanc.

As Princess Elisabeth is a six-hour flight from the closest metropolis – Cape Town, 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 components, a bundle of those valuable items is flown in each month from Cape Town – offering the climate isn’t too wild.

Despite its altitude – 4,475 ft above sea stage – Princess Elisabeth stays comfortably heat and protected against 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.

“During the summer months, we don’t need to use heating inside the station, because all the radiation from the sun, and our own presence inside the station, is enough to maintain an internal temperature of 20-21°C (68-69.8°F),” says Henri Robert, a science liaison officer at Princess Elisabeth.

Through 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 currently have the sun all day long as we are lower than the Arctic Circle. Luckily, there’s this mountain to the south of us, so the sun goes behind it and we get a bit of shade for a couple of hours, and then the sun rises again. But it never goes below 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 attain Princess Elisabeth, the crew flies from Cape Town on a DC-3 airplane, an plane well-suited to transporting cargo and maneuvering icy runways. The flight takes just a little over six hours after which it’s a 90-minute journey from the airstrip to the station. Fresh 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 that may strike worry into the hearts of those that often 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 trials of the job.

“More and more, I have grown used to waiting a month between fresh food deliveries. Years ago, when I first started the job, it was difficult because fresh food wears fast. With experience, I know what will go bad first, so for the first week, we have a lot of fresh salads. I manage it so I can make these ingredients last as long as possible. Over these four weeks, I am able to manage, and until the fourth week I can still offer something appetizing to eat,” says Duconseille.

The meals Duconseille prepares at Princess Elisabeth are assorted, together with soups, meats, pizza, salads, quiches, and desserts. “There’s always a vegetarian or vegan option – so everybody has a variety to choose from,” says Duconseille. For particular events, like Christmas and New Year’s, the chef prepares dishes together with foie gras, turkey with stuffing, and iced nougat.

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

The station usually sees between 20 to 30 crew members without delay, however over time the services have expanded to help 45 to 50 individuals. Crew members alternate serving to Duconseille within the kitchen by setting the desk, drying and storing dishes, or peeling giant portions of potatoes. Sustenance is a bunch 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 fill up shipping containers with a large amount of dried and frozen food and every other year, a ship arrives and supplies us with these ingredients,” says Duconseille.

At the station, meals is saved downstairs, the place there’s a giant room with shelving for the dry meals, a freezer in regards to the dimension of a transport container (-13°F), and a smaller fridge (41-44°F). “We actually have fridges that we need to warm up because many ingredients like certain fruits cannot be frozen,” says Duconseille.

Duconseille doesn’t plan meals upfront, however maintains a robust meals stock, so he is aware of precisely what’s within the financial institution. The valuable nature of the contemporary components signifies that the place requires adaptability and creativity.

“I cook by feeling – depending on the number of people there, or what food will be going bad soon. It all depends on what we have,” 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 an important function within the success of those expeditions.

“These field trips can take two-three weeks and involve four to six people. For this, I need to estimate the meals they will need away from the station. Every time I cook a large meal, I freeze portions so that researchers can take these, defrost, and enjoy, without needing to waste valuable time in the field,” 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 a variety of mountain huts within the French Alps, together with Mont Blanc’s Goûter Hut, the very best wardened mountain hut in France.

“I have always been drawn to atypical landscapes, beautiful areas, places at altitude. It’s a small world – the world of people who do this work in these regions – so another cook told the station’s director about me. Working at one place can open new doors, and that’s how I got from the Alps to Antarctica,” says Duconseille.

Outside of the Antarctic summer season, he continues his work within the French Alps, offering meals, lodging and help to individuals mountaineering one of many 5 routes up Mont Blanc, which rises to fifteen,771 ft (4,807 meters).

The Princess Elisabeth crew works six days every week. Depending 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 enjoy walking in the mountains with the rest of the group, and I’m also a runner, so I like going for a run at the 1.2-mile-long airstrip. But usually, on Sunday, I’ll read, take a nap, and prepare for the week ahead,” says Duconseille.

Some of the workforce take pleasure in cross-country snowboarding. Some take it up a notch, and head to the big slope, for alpine snowboarding. Of course, there aren’t any ski lifts, so what goes down should come up – that’s in order for you a second lap. Robert, a biologist and birdwatcher, seizes the chance of getting such uncommon entry to the White Continent.

“We have 124 miles of ice before we reach the coast. Throughout this area, we have beautiful wildlife, colonies of birds breeding right here – so we are not totally alone. It is always exciting to come here because I’m passionate about birds. When I have the chance, I go to the nunatak and observe the birds that are breeding there, or I’ll rest on Sunday. It all depends on the weather,” 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 may seem to be one other planet totally. While the station is comfy and properly geared up (Robert described it as being “very pleasant… 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, food is important for team morale – it is important to ensure people are happy around the table and gather together after a long day. I like to cook desserts and cakes so that people can be happy at the end 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 hard for the first few days when I leave my family. But once you arrive, you’re in this environment where you’re work-focused and captivated by the beautiful surroundings. Life is exciting, there is always something happening. We are taking care of a lot of people and scientific activities.”

Leaving Antarctica once more is bittersweet.

“At the end of summer, we are happy to come home, but it’s a mixed feeling: we’re sad to leave Antarctica,” says Duconseille. “It’s an incredible environment and a unique life that we have here.”

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