Thursday, 14 March 2019

Concordia Station - France and Italy together in Antarctica

Dome C and Concordia, on Antarctic's East Ice Sheet.

Here, not far from the South Pole, as in the International Space Station, humanity behaves in a friendly and cooperative way that we'd like to see also at home, which is Europe in this case.

France and Italy have built a common house on the southernmost iced territories of the planet, living together in harmony under -30 to -80º C on the top of a vast polar desert.

Concordia: 75° 05′ S, 123° 19′ E

Concordia, nice name ! , is situated on Dome C, one of the coldest hills of ice at the Antarctic plateau, 3233 meters high. It started working in 2005 as an all year round research station, with a crew of 12 to 15 in permanent occupancy. A team of seismologists, glaciologists, astronomers and climatologists.

The Station is built in a pleasant unique architecture: two large faceted cylinders are the main three-storey buildings; they rest on six hydraulic legs that allow horizontal level adjusting and elevation control as ground level rises with snow accumulation. The two structures are connected at first floor by an insulated enclosed walkway.

Left, the red annex with generators and boilers; then the walkway gallery across the two main buildings, ending in a stairway to the ground

One building is dedicated to somehow 'quiet' activities like labs, accommodations, hospital, communications, weather station. The normal accommodating capacity is up to 65 members, and occupation varies from 12 to 20 in Winter, to over 70 in Summer, when heated tents are used outside.

The other building hosts more noisy social activities: meeting room, offices, library,  restaurant and kitchen, gym, media room.

Generators, the heating system, water treatment and other technical facilities are installed in the red annex cabin.

Local transportation is done by snowmobile tractors.

Dome C is the top of a soft slope, like an upwards deformation of the Ice Cap. Temperature outside is never above -25ºC, at the peak of Summer in January, but can plunge down to -80º C, when a minute of exposition can be fatal; 'normal' is around -40º, like inside a powerful freezer. Very low humidity - driest air - but fortunately not strong winds, as in other domes in Southeast Antarctic.

The feeling to be living in the future, some centuries ahead, in pristine environment and total quietness.

Ice vehicle prototype by Lotus, reaching 130 km/h, under tests during the Solar Eclipse in 2014.

This dryness and quietness is the reason why the site was chosen: it makes an exceptional location for astronomical observations. Besides, atmospheric pollution is absent, and there are no lights around - except full Moon and the Austral Auroras (Southern Lights). Concordia works in full cooperation with ESA - European Space Agency.

One of the astronomic observation devices.

In any direction around, there is 'nothing' in a 1000 km radius, except the Russian Vostok base, 600 km to the north through impracticable terrain. But over 1000 km eastwards the coastline is reached, where other stations are located - McMurdo, Scott, Dumont d'Urville. From there comes the biofuel, spare parts, tools or other equipment, transported by a long convoy of containers pulled by snow tractors on catterpillar treads, known as "The Raid". The two way journey takes a month.

'The Raid' supply convoy arrives at Concordia.

The hardest time is the 9 month full isolation between February and November, when air supply is impossible due to weather conditions. SOS, available with a small Twin-Otter, is also disrupted in the 5 winter months.

Concordia has its own airport in the form of a runway over 1.5 km long. The arrival of the first plane in November is always celebrated: a Canadian Basler 67, the most solid and efficient aircraft to land and take off in short distances on ice terrain, brings the long waited fresh supplies.

Apples, oranges, vegetables, newspapers...

Christmas happens in the best season - December is in Summer at this latitude - and with freshly supplied stocks.

The Basler 67 is a high-tech updated version of the old DC3, from 1942.

Nights can be magic:

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