Concordia: the Antarctic research base
28 March 2013
A team of scientists are spending six months in the most remote spot on Earth, to study the effects of isolation in preparation for long space missions. The crew at the Concordia research base in Antarctica have now settled in to their home and are ready for the cold, long winter ahead. Built in one of the furthest away places on Earth, Concordia is 3200 m above sea level and has temperatures as low as –80°C in the winter!
As it is so high up, the air in Concordia is very thin and holds less oxygen. Venturing outside the base requires wearing layers of clothes and limits the time spent outdoors. The Sun does not rise above the horizon in the winter, so the crew must live without sunlight for four months of the year. It is so far away from anywhere else that the journey to Concordia takes longer than the journey to the International Space Station!
Far away from other towns or cities, the white world of Antarctica allows scientists to collect data and experiment like no other place on Earth. In many ways Concordia is an environment similar to spaceflight. Even materials that could be used in human spacecraft are tested there.
Up to 16 people spend around a year at a time living in Concordia. When they arrive at Concordia, an 'adjustment period' is needed to get used to the new conditions, just like astronauts in space. The high altitude, extreme cold, dry air and new sensations can be very strange for the human brain as it adjusts to the new environment.
This year's group of scientists have now arrived in Concordia and are preparing for the long winter ahead. The last plane left the base last month, signalling the start of winter and being cut off from the rest of the world.
The team is made up astronomers, glaciologists, seismologists and a meteorologist, as well as a plumber, electrician, mechanic and cook. The crew have only themselves to rely on and there can be no help from the outside world if any problems come up under these difficult conditions. Good luck Concordia crew!