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Antarctic landscapes, a library and tuxedoes once a week: a polar explorer's life in pictures

A penguin stands near The Ukrainian Antarctic Akademik Vernadsky station, Galindez Island, Argentine Islands
A penguin stands near The Ukrainian Antarctic Akademik Vernadsky station, Galindez Island, Argentine Islands   -   Copyright  Yevhenii Prokopchuk
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If it wasn't for the COVID-19 pandemic, this would be the high season at the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Base off the west coast of Antarctica.

During the summer season, from December to March, the base would usually receive 5,000 tourists, most of them from Antarctic cruises.

Today, when it's not possoble to visit in-person, we take you on a virtual journey to this Antarctic research base.

How are those at the far end of the planet spending their time? What are they researching? What do they do during their downtime? How do they keep warm? And why do they wear tuxedoes once a week?

Yevhenii Prokopchuk
The team members of the 25th Ukrainian Antarctic Expedition near Galindez Island, Wilhelm Archipelago, AntarcticYevhenii Prokopchuk
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
A penguin stands next to Akademik Vernadsky Antarctic StationYevhenii Prokopchuk

The station’s story and its team

The research base, which is stationed on the Argentine Galindez Island in the Wilhelm Archipelago, was originally named the Faraday Station. It was given this name by the British, who founded the station in 1947. Almost 50 years later, in 1996, it was handed over to Ukraine. This month marked the mission's 25th anniversary.

There is a polar research team at the base year-round, with 11 team members currently onboard, including geophysicists, biologists and hydro-meteorologists.

Vadym Zhukovskyi
The 25th Ukrainian Antarctic Expedition at Akademik Vernadsky Antarctic stationVadym Zhukovskyi

Research work

The station’s biologist Oleksandr Salhanski explains what they are working on at the moment: "The focus of our current research is the penguin colonies and the biodiversity of the surrounding islands. The bacteria and plankton tell scientists about climate change."

The team monitors marine mammals and birds, studying their feeding behaviour, and also the diets of local fish. The influence of sea lions and penguins on the local flora is also on Oleksandr’s agenda.

Photo identification of species is also carried out for research and catalogisation.

Yevhenii Prokopchuk
Newborn Weddell seal, named Halinka by the team, with her motherYevhenii Prokopchuk
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
Antarctic landscape photographed during a scientific whale watching tripYevhenii Prokopchuk
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
Biologist Oleksandr Salhanski during field workYevhenii Prokopchuk
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
Colonies of penguins near Akademik Vernadsky Antarctic StationYevhenii Prokopchuk
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
Penguin nesting time at Galindez IslandYevhenii Prokopchuk
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
A crabeater seal near the main building of Akademik Vernadsky Antarctic StationYevhenii Prokopchuk

"Antarctica is the only continent that has not been anthropologically influenced and has remained as pristine as it was millions of years ago. Studying its history, we might find the keys to our future," said the leader of the 25th Antarctic expedition, the geophysicist Yurii Otruba.

"For instance," he continues. "The icebergs and glaciers of Antarctica affect the climate of the entire planet. We study the ozone hole, we observe near space, the ionosphere, conduct some meteorological and glaciological studies."

When not conducting research, polar explorers have to make sure their training in fire safety and surviving extreme weather is up to date.

Yevhenii Prokopchuk
Dry suit training for the teamYevhenii Prokopchuk

Free time, food and traditions

To keep the team entertained during downtime, the station has a bar, a pool table and a library. Previously, tourists were able to send postcards from the base. But the station is currently only connected to the outside world via the internet.

Yevhenii Prokopchuk
The library at Akademik Vernadsky Antarctic StationYevhenii Prokopchuk

The team brings food supplies for the year with them to the station. They call their menu "continental" and similar to what they would eat back home in Ukraine. Porridge, soup, omelettes, steak and fish are among their favourite meals. Dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and sour cream are whipped up using dried milk.

Because the shipways are blocked by ice during the winter months, fresh fruit and vegetables are off the menu from October to the middle of February. At that point, some treats arrive with the summer expedition which joins the main team for a couple of months.

The team gets dressed up in evening gowns and suits every Saturday evening, upholding a tradition established by the former British occupants.

AP Photo
Pickled cabbage preparation is teamwork at Akademik Vernadsky Antarctic StationAP Photo
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
The team playing pool in the station's barYevhenii Prokopchuk

Weather

It is currently summer at the base, when temperatures move between a few degrees below to a few degrees above zero, hydrometeorologist Ihor Artemenko tells us. In winter temperatures can fall to -25°C, but tend to average -5°C and -15°C.

Yevhenii Prokopchuk
Snow covers the entrance to one of the The Ukrainian Antarctic Akademik Vernadsky station buildingsYevhenii Prokopchuk
Yevhenii Prokopchuk
The view of Akademik Vernadsky Antarctic Station, Galindez Island, Wilhelm Archipelago, AntarcticYevhenii Prokopchuk

Humidity levels can reach 100%, and it rains or snows here 270 days a year. Currently, the snow is 140cm deep. The wind can reach speeds of up to 40km/h.

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