The challenges of keeping scientists fed and happy in Antarctica

(CNN) — No place on Earth is colder than East Antarctica. Due to its increased elevation, not even West Antarctica can contact its hostile temperatures.

Princess Elisabeth, a polar analysis station in the Queen Maud Land area, faces wind speeds of as much as 155 mph (249 kph) and temperatures as little as -58°F (-50°C). A aptitude for consolation meals is understandably a requisite ability for any chef working in this surroundings.

“As individuals are outdoors in extraordinarily chilly temperatures and harsh circumstances, I wish to make one thing good and heavy for the physique, like fondue and raclette. Lots of it,” says chef Thomas Duconseille, who mans this distant Antarctic publish for a number of months annually.

When there is a group of chilly scientists round 3,100 miles from the closest metropolis and not less than 9,900 miles from dwelling, it is smart that scorching cheese goes a good distance. If solely the remainder of Duconseille’s culinary duties have been this easy — cooking in these circumstances comes with distinctive challenges.

Seven seasons in Antarctica

Princess Elisabeth is anchored to the ridge beside Utsteinen Nunatak, a mountain referred to as “the outer stone,” in the Sør Rondane mountain vary. Outside Duconseille’s workplace window lie icy granite mountains and brilliant white lowlands dotted with in-field lodging items, laboratory containers, and wind generators that sprout from the snow.

During the summer season months of November to February, the glacial, mountainous panorama is bathed in fixed gentle — the solar slips behind the ridge for simply three hours a day. During this time, researchers from Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, India and the United States use the encompassing 124 miles of mountains, shoreline, glaciers, and the Antarctic Plateau to conduct scientific analysis and to develop methods to handle local weather change. Some keep for just a few weeks and others would possibly keep for the season. Duconseille, the resident chef at Princess Elisabeth, is there for the total 4 months. This yr is his seventh season in Antarctica.

Chef Thomas Duconseille works at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station for several months each year.

Chef Thomas Duconseille works at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station for a number of months annually.

Courtesy International Polar Foundation

Princess Elisabeth, operated by Brussels-based International Polar Foundation, has been in service since early 2009, making it one of the newer polar analysis stations. Though it could be younger, it is the world’s first zero-emission polar analysis station, relying solely on renewable power in one of the world’s harshest environments. It’s additionally a sight to behold. Resting atop the ridge, Princess Elisabeth resembles a freshly landed hexagonal spacecraft, its smooth silver panels reflecting the intense whites of the polar panorama.

It’s onerous to imagine that inside, there’s brioche baking.

“We put together our personal bread and cook dinner it right here. Fresh bread is vital. I wish to make brioche for breakfast with chocolate inside,” says Duconseille. As a Frenchman, good bread is as a lot a method of life at his publish in Antarctica as it’s again dwelling in Normandy, or in the Alps, the place he spends the higher half of the yr catering to a different breed of explorers on Mont Blanc.

As Princess Elisabeth is a six-hour flight from the closest metropolis — Cape Town, South Africa — Duconseille ensures meat, fish and greens are frozen to final the season and that eggs are saved in five-liter crates with the whites and yolks separated. As for the recent elements, a bundle of these valuable items is flown in each month from Cape Town — offering the climate is not too wild.

The challenges of recent meals for a distant outpost

Despite its altitude — 4,475 toes above sea stage — Princess Elisabeth stays comfortably heat and shielded from the weather because of a sturdy mixture of woolen felt, heavy-duty Kraft paper, aluminum, wooden panels, polystyrene, waterproofing membrane, polyethylene foam, and chrome steel.

“During the summer season months, we needn’t use heating contained in the station, as a result of all of the radiation from the solar, and our personal presence contained in the station, is sufficient to keep an inside temperature of 20-21°C (68-69.8°F),” says Henri Robert, a science liaison officer at Princess Elisabeth.

Through a hybrid system of 9 wind generators and 408 photo voltaic photovoltaic panels, the power of 100 days of round the clock sunshine and ferocious gusts of wind is harnessed to energy the station.

“We presently have the solar all day lengthy as we’re decrease than the Arctic Circle. Luckily, there’s this mountain to the south of us, so the solar goes behind it and we get a bit of shade for a pair of hours, and then the solar rises once more. But it by no means goes under the horizon,” says Robert, a local of Belgium.

The station is the world's first zero-emission polar research station, relying solely on renewable energy in one of the world's harshest environments.

The station is the world’s first zero-emission polar analysis station, relying solely on renewable power in one of the world’s harshest environments.

Courtesy International Polar Foundation

To attain Princess Elisabeth, the crew flies from Cape Town on a DC-3 airplane, an plane well-suited to transporting cargo and maneuvering icy runways. The flight takes a bit over six hours and then it is a 90-minute journey from the airstrip to the station. Fresh meals together with greens and milk can also be transported utilizing the DC-3, and this operation is repeated each month (climate allowing).

It’s a set-up that may strike concern into the hearts of those that often depend on that last-minute sprint to the grocery retailer for that forgotten handful of recent herbs or cup of thickened cream, however Duconseille has tailored to the trials of the job.

“More and extra, I’ve grown used to ready a month between recent meals deliveries. Years in the past, once I first began the job, it was tough as a result of recent meals wears quick. With expertise, I do know what’s going to go dangerous first, so for the primary week, we’ve got so much of recent salads. I handle it so I could make these elements final so long as potential. Over these 4 weeks, I’m able to handle, and till the fourth week I can nonetheless supply one thing appetizing to eat,” says Duconseille.

Sustenance and meals storage

The meals Duconseille prepares at Princess Elisabeth are different, together with soups, meats, pizza, salads, quiches, and desserts. “There’s all the time a vegetarian or vegan choice — so all people has a spread to select from,” says Duconseille. For particular events, like Christmas and New Year’s, the chef prepares dishes together with foie gras, turkey with stuffing, and iced nougat.

“As a shopper, I can say it is like being in a restaurant. It’s fantastic — it is a full dinner,” says Robert.

The station sometimes sees between 20 to 30 crew members directly, however over time the services have expanded to help 45 to 50 individuals. Crew members alternate serving to Duconseille in the kitchen by setting the desk, drying and storing dishes, or peeling massive portions of potatoes. Sustenance is a gaggle effort.

Given the isolation of the station and the fluctuating crew numbers, it is vital {that a} reserve of staple meals is maintained from season to season. Transporting long-lasting and non-perishable gadgets like grains, beans, and tinned tomatoes to the station is a distinct beast to the month-to-month recent meals drops.

Some provisions arrive in shipping containers from Belgium.

Some provisions arrive in transport containers from Belgium.

Courtesy International Polar Foundation

“From Belgium, we refill transport containers with a big quantity of dried and frozen meals and each different yr, a ship arrives and provides us with these elements,” says Duconseille.

At the station, meals is saved downstairs, the place there’s a massive room with shelving for the dry meals, a freezer in regards to the dimension of a transport container (-13°F), and a smaller fridge (41-44°F). “We even have fridges that we have to heat up as a result of many elements like sure fruits can’t be frozen,” says Duconseille.

Duconseille would not plan meals in advance, however maintains a robust meals stock, so he is aware of precisely what’s in the financial institution. The valuable nature of the recent elements signifies that the place requires adaptability and creativity.

“I cook dinner by feeling — relying on the quantity of individuals there, or what meals will probably be going dangerous quickly. It all is determined by what we’ve got,” says Duconseille.

As there’s a vary of polar landscapes to be studied in japanese Antarctica, scientists at Princess Elisabeth head out on common subject journeys. The chef performs an important function in the success of these expeditions.

“These subject journeys can take two-three weeks and contain 4 to 6 individuals. For this, I must estimate the meals they may want away from the station. Every time I cook dinner a big meal, I freeze parts in order that researchers can take these, defrost, and take pleasure in, without having to waste helpful time in the sphere,” says Duconseille.

Crew members at the station conduct scientific research and develop strategies to address climate change.

Crew members on the station conduct scientific analysis and develop methods to handle local weather change.

Courtesy International Polar Foundation

‘I’ve all the time been drawn to atypical landscapes’

For the previous decade, Duconseille has been a supervisor at a quantity of mountain huts in the French Alps, together with Mont Blanc’s Goûter Hut, the very best wardened mountain hut in France.

“I’ve all the time been drawn to atypical landscapes, stunning areas, locations at altitude. It’s a small world — the world of individuals who do that work in these areas — so one other cook dinner informed the station’s director about me. Working at one place can open new doorways, and that is how I received from the Alps to Antarctica,” says Duconseille.

Outside of the Antarctic summer season, he continues his work in the French Alps, offering meals, lodging and help to individuals mountain climbing one of the 5 routes up Mont Blanc, which rises to fifteen,771 toes (4,807 meters).

The Princess Elisabeth crew works six days per week. Depending on the circumstances, Sunday is enjoyable day. The staff is free to accompany subject guides and go to the neighboring nunataks, the mountain ridges that emerge from the ice like bony plates on a stegosaurus’ again.

Conditions at Princess Elisabeth station can be brutal.

Conditions at Princess Elisabeth station might be brutal.

International Polar Foundation

“I take pleasure in strolling in the mountains with the remainder of the group, and I’m additionally a runner, so I like going for a run on the 1.2-mile-long airstrip. But often, on Sunday, I’ll learn, take a nap, and put together for the week forward,” says Duconseille.

Some of the staff take pleasure in cross-country snowboarding. Some take it up a notch, and head to the big slope, for alpine snowboarding. Of course, there aren’t any ski lifts, so what goes down should come up — that’s if you need a second lap. Robert, a biologist and birdwatcher, seizes the chance of having such uncommon entry to the White Continent.

“We have 124 miles of ice earlier than we attain the coast. Throughout this space, we’ve got stunning wildlife, colonies of birds breeding proper right here — so we aren’t completely alone. It is all the time thrilling to come back right here as a result of I’m enthusiastic about birds. When I’ve the prospect, I’m going to the nunatak and observe the birds which might be breeding there, or I’ll relaxation on Sunday. It all is determined by the climate,” says Robert.

Food and morale are intertwined

Fresh food including vegetables and milk arrives via DC-3 every month (weather permitting).

Fresh meals together with greens and milk arrives through DC-3 each month (climate allowing).

Courtesy International Polar Foundation

Duconseille’s expertise managing remoted mountain refuges has ready him for the half of the job that goes past offering sustenance: creating a house removed from dwelling.

With subglacial lakes, katabatic winds, and a 300-mile-wide crater rumored to be hidden beneath the japanese ice sheet, Antarctica is extra than simply the world’s most remoted continent: it may well seem to be one other planet solely. While the station is snug and effectively geared up (Robert described it as being “very nice… like a chalet in Switzerland”), the intense isolation, unpredictable polar climate, and months away from dwelling and family members can put on down even probably the most intrepid.

“In Antarctica, meals is vital for staff morale — it is very important guarantee individuals are happy across the desk and collect collectively after a protracted day. I wish to cook dinner desserts and desserts so that folks might be happy on the finish of the day,” says Duconseille.

If the chef spends his time bringing pleasure to the crew in the shape of golden brioche and molten cheese, what’s it that brings him pleasure?

“It’s onerous for the primary few days once I go away my household. But when you arrive, you are in this surroundings the place you are work-focused and captivated by the gorgeous environment. Life is thrilling, there may be all the time one thing occurring. We are taking care of so much of individuals and scientific actions.”

Leaving Antarctica once more is bittersweet.

“At the tip of summer season, we’re happy to come back dwelling, however it’s a blended feeling: we’re unhappy to depart Antarctica,” says Duconseille. “It’s an unimaginable surroundings and a novel life that we’ve got right here.”

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