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Confinement in science #4: isolation in remote Antarctic stations

My PhD advisor once told me: “In Antarctica, you learn to be patient. There are certain moments when the only thing you can do is to wait.” Indeed, during the field campaigns I have taken part in, so many times it happened to be just stacked, waiting for the storm to be over, the wind to stop blowing, the flight to arrive… It is just what it is and I have learnt that there are things that go beyond my control. People, food, weather… In an Antarctic station, you can choose almost nothing, but somehow everybody try to do the best they can, and the result is often amazing. Research stations during summer seasons are often overpopulated. The space is reduced for everyone and there is no place where to escape except, when you have it, your (shared) room, or, when the weather allows it, around the station. But this also depends from station to station: continental Antarctica often does not allow long walks because of the low temperatures even when the sun is up and bright, and in coastal Antarctica it happened to me that the station was surrounded by a protected area and thus it was not possible to go for a walk too far. Being with the same people around 24/24h, 7/7d, in the same place and no room for yourself can bring tensions and a feeling of overwhelm. Nevertheless, it is in this kind of conditions that I was able to build the strongest bounds. With no other place where to go, you start sharing your daily life with other people maybe unknown before the campaign and this was for me one of the best parts of a scientific campaign. Since we are all there together, I have learnt that, without the help of each other, all the extreme scientific work that we carry during a very short amount of time would have not been possible. That synergy is a magical thing in the middle of the white continent.

Written by Valentina Savaglia

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