IN MID-SUMMER, IF YOU’RE REALLY LUCKY,
the temperature at McMurdo Station might just nudge above freezing. This US research centre, on Antarctica’s Ross Island, is home to the largest community on the entire continent. There’s a harbour, three airfields, a heliport and over a hundred buildings. In summer, around 1,000 scientists and support staff live in Mactown, as the locals call it, but that drops to 250 during the brutal winters. Just how brutal? Well, in August, the daily mean is minus 27 degrees centigrade.
One person all too familiar with life in the freezer is Keri Nelson, who spent a decade at Mactown, working first as a janitor, then in the supply store. Tougher to deal with than the cold, she said, was the total darkness of mid-winter and the 24-hour daylight of mid-summer. The latter in particular upset her circadian rhythms making it difficult to sleep.
There are, however, some upsides to life near the South Pole. Nelson says the social scene was surprisingly vibrant. During her time there she enjoyed exuberant celebrations at Christmas and on mid-winter’s day on 21 June; plus a whole host of activities, including playing in a band and hiking across the snowy wastes. She even met her future husband in Antarctica when he worked at the nearby Scott Base.