From Norwegian explorer Carl Anton Larsen's first discovery of fossils in Antarctica in 1892 to the modern deep ice-core drilling programs, much Antarctic scientific work has been carried out "in the field." This term is usually used to describe any area remote from an established scientific station where fieldwork is conducted from a temporary tent camp.
Field research may be based in the mountains, plateaux or ice-shelves, and field parties may need to travel by snowmobile and sledge to visit different areas in the course of their studies. Earth sciences such as geology, glaciology and geophysics are the disciplines that have traditionally worked in this way, but biological and mapping projects are sometimes undertaken from field camps. Due to the inherent problems of logistical support and safety, almost all field projects are conducted during the Antarctic summer season between October and March.
Field travel is often an intriguing mix of old and new. Ski-equipped aircraft such as Twin Otters or C-130s will be used to transport the field parties from the base to the destination area. Aircraft have been used in the Antarctic since the expeditions of Sir Hubert Wilkins and Australian Douglas Mawson in the 1920s. Once in place, a party may stay away from base for up to three months or so, re-supplied by air when necessary. Food is a mix of high-tech freeze-dried foods and old-fashioned tins, cooked on gasoline or kerosene stoves.
Personnel usually live in tents, though some projects may utilize pre-fabricated huts, which can be dismantled at the end of the field project and moved back to base. Interestingly enough, the tunnel and pyramid tents still favored by many national programs were originally used by the expeditions of Norwegian Roald Amundsen, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott at the beginning of the 20th century.
Field parties usually communicate with the parent station via high-frequency radio or satellite telephone. Daily schedules allow information to be transmitted on weather and location and also allow discussion in those situations where medical or mechanical assistance is required.
Those projects requiring overland travel usually use snowmobiles pulling sledges with the field and science equipment. Many modern programs still use the style of sledge designed by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen for his travels in the Arctic in the 1880s. Until the mid-1970s, sledge dogs were the main means of transport for many research projects and were used as recently as the 1994 season for fieldwork. However, to comply with the Environmental Protocol's mandate for the conservation of Antarctic flora and fauna, all sledge dogs were removed from Antarctica by April 1994.
Photo Credits: Frank Hurley, Courtesy of The Macklin Collection
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