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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.

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