Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Southern Thule:

a church in Bellinghausen, Antarctica

Bellinghausen Station is a Russian base in Antarctica, on a mostly ice-free peninsula of King George Island, where several other research stations are located. It normally houses around 25 people to a maximum of 50.

King George Island is probably the most populated region in Antarctica: Chilean, Polish, Argentinean, Brasilian, Peruvian, Chinese, Korean ... and Russian stations were built there for its natural conditions of easy access, natural harbours and relatively mild climate.

In recent years Bellinghausen station gained reputation as a trading post, with station members willing to swap or sell pins, flags clothing...

The average temperature around the station varies from -6.8°С to +1.1°С .
Coordinates : 62º 12' S, 58º 56' W

The Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity

Maybe the most remarkable feature of the station is now its Trinity Church - a small Russian Orthodox church which is the southernmost church in the world (though there is an ice-made igloo-like church, mostly unattended, some degrees more southerly) and the only permanently staffed church in Antarctica.

The church was opened in 2004 - shipped from Siberia in pieces and reassembled at the site. The interior is really well conceived and decorated, creating maybe the best place to feel cosy in all Antarctica!

This church was built in 2003 in the Altaï Mountains, in noble Altaï cedar and larch wood, the logs sealed with a special glue and reinforced with a structure of steel chains to resist strong horizontal guts and storms.

First taken to the port of Kaliningrad on five big trucks, in separated numbered parts, then on board the research vessel "Akademik Sergey Vavilov" to the southern continent in a long trip of more than two months.

Akademik Sergey Vavilov arriving in Bellinghausen

For half a century of scientific exploration of the ice continent, 64 russian polar explorers have found peace in the rocky ridges of Antarctica. Now there is a place to mourn them.

In 2007, the first and only until now wedding in Antarctica took place - the daughter of Russian polar explorer was married to a Chilean polar explorer from the next station.

Slowly, the temporary population of Antarctica stations is settling in a permanent way of living; also schools, hospitals, gyms and restaurants may help this change in a continent with an open future.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The arctic ermine - the dearest arctic creature!

Some time ago, I declared my admiration for the Arctic Tern as the most wonderful bird on the planet; now, I declare my sympathy for the Ermine, the most cute (though fearsome and deadly!) small mammal.

Ermines (Mustela erminea) live in the Arctic tundra of North America (Canadian high arctic), Greenland and Europe (Siberia). Their usual habitat: flat marshes, open spaces or rocky areas.

In the spring and summer they have brown to yellow-brown fur with paler or white fur on the belly and a black tip on the tail.

Ermine reach over 30 cm in length.

The head is triangular shaped with small round ears, small, bright eyes and long whiskers.

They grow white fur in the winter, but the tip of the tail remains black:

Ermine's black tail tip may draw any predator bird's attention and fool it into attacking the tail.

A small, white face pushes up through the snow, its black eyes gleaming brightly.

The ermine's flexible spine allows it to do the "marten run" in which the back is first arched, then extended.

Ermines are very territorial, and largely solitary animals.
Their life span is 4 to 7 years.

Elusive predators, ermines are cruel little killers for there preys mainly mice, lemmings, squirrels, small birds, but also rats and sometimes rabbits!

Ermine are largely nocturnal or crepuscular. Most of their preys are small rodents that live beneath the snow in winter. And in turn they are ferquent prey to wolves, foxes, cats and large birds.

A long time ago, during the Middle Ages, the fur of the white phase of the ermine was popular in clothing, and had a strong symbolic meaning of purity.

"Ermine" portrait of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, 1585

Nowadays ermines are almost never used in clothing.

Ermines were also choosed to figure in some coats-of-arms, because of that purity symbolism.

Ermine in Chateau-Blois window

Ermines are neither threatened or endangered. The world population is some trillions !

A short video on ermine's gluttony: