September 29, 2023
The challenges of protecting scientists fed and joyful in Antarctica

(CNN) — No place on Earth is colder than East Antarctica. As a result of its greater elevation, not even West Antarctica can contact its hostile temperatures.

Princess Elisabeth, a polar analysis station within 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 talent for any chef working on this setting.

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

When there is a group of chilly scientists round 3,100 miles from the closest metropolis and no less than 9,900 miles from residence, it is sensible that sizzling cheese goes a good distance. If solely the remainder of Duconseille’s culinary duties had been this simple — cooking in these circumstances comes with distinctive challenges.

Seven seasons in Antarctica

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

In the course of 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. Throughout this time, researchers from Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, India and the US 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 a number of weeks and others may keep for the season. Duconseille, the resident chef at Princess Elisabeth, is there for the complete 4 months. This 12 months 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 Analysis Station for a number of months annually.

Courtesy Worldwide Polar Basis

Princess Elisabeth, operated by Brussels-based Worldwide Polar Basis, has been in service since early 2009, making it one of many newer polar analysis stations. Although it might be younger, it is the world’s first zero-emission polar analysis station, relying solely on renewable power in one of many world’s harshest environments. It is also 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 is laborious to consider that inside, there’s brioche baking.

“We put together our personal bread and prepare dinner it right here. Contemporary bread is essential. I prefer to make brioche for breakfast with chocolate inside,” says Duconseille. As a Frenchman, good bread is as a lot a lifestyle at his submit in Antarctica as it’s again residence in Normandy, or within the Alps, the place he spends the higher a part of the 12 months catering to a different breed of explorers on Mont Blanc.

As Princess Elisabeth is a six-hour flight from the closest metropolis — Cape City, 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 components, a bundle of those treasured items is flown in each month from Cape City — offering the climate is not too wild.

The challenges of recent meals for a distant outpost

Regardless of its altitude — 4,475 ft above sea degree — 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.

“In the course of the summer season months, we need not 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 inner temperature of 20-21°C (68-69.8°F),” says Henri Robert, a science liaison officer at Princess Elisabeth.

By way of 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 Antarctic Circle. Fortunately, there’s this mountain to the south of us, so the solar goes behind it and we get a little bit of shade for a few hours, after which the solar rises once more. But it surely by no means goes beneath 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 many world’s harshest environments.

Courtesy Worldwide Polar Basis

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

It is a set-up that may strike worry into the hearts of those that frequently 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.

“An increasing number of, I’ve grown used to ready a month between recent meals deliveries. Years in the past, after I first began the job, it was troublesome 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 have now a variety of recent salads. I handle it so I could make these components final so long as doable. Over these 4 weeks, I’m able to handle, and till the fourth week I can nonetheless provide one thing appetizing to eat,” says Duconseille.

Sustenance and meals storage

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

“As a client, I can say it is like being in a restaurant. It is great — 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 folks. Crew members alternate serving to Duconseille within the kitchen by setting the desk, drying and storing dishes, or peeling giant portions of potatoes. Sustenance is a gaggle effort.

Given the isolation of the station and the fluctuating crew numbers, it is essential {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 special 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 Worldwide Polar Basis

“From Belgium, we refill transport containers with a considerable amount of dried and frozen meals and each different 12 months, a ship arrives and provides us with these components,” says Duconseille.

On the station, meals is saved downstairs, the place there’s a giant room with shelving for the dry meals, a freezer concerning the measurement 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 components like sure fruits can’t be frozen,” says Duconseille.

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

“I prepare dinner by feeling — relying on the variety of folks there, or what meals shall be going dangerous quickly. All of it is dependent upon what we have now,” 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 a significant function within the success of those expeditions.

“These subject journeys can take two-three weeks and contain 4 to 6 folks. For this, I have to estimate the meals they’ll want away from the station. Each time I prepare dinner a big meal, I freeze parts in order that researchers can take these, defrost, and luxuriate in, without having to waste useful time within the subject,” 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 Worldwide Polar Basis

‘I’ve at all times been drawn to atypical landscapes’

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

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

Outdoors of the Antarctic summer season, he continues his work within the French Alps, offering meals, lodging and help to folks mountaineering one of many 5 routes up Mont Blanc, which rises to fifteen,771 ft (4,807 meters).

The Princess Elisabeth crew works six days per week. Relying on the circumstances, Sunday is enjoyable day. The workforce 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.

Situations at Princess Elisabeth station could be brutal.

Worldwide Polar Basis

“I get pleasure from strolling within the mountains with the remainder of the group, and I am additionally a runner, so I like going for a run on the 1.2-mile-long airstrip. However often, on Sunday, I am going to learn, take a nap, and put together for the week forward,” says Duconseille.

A number of the workforce get pleasure from cross-country snowboarding. Some take it up a notch, and head to the big slope, for alpine snowboarding. After all, there aren’t any ski lifts, so what goes down should come up — that’s if you’d like a second lap. Robert, a biologist and birdwatcher, seizes the chance of getting such uncommon entry to the White Continent.

“Now we have 124 miles of ice earlier than we attain the coast. All through this space, we have now lovely wildlife, colonies of birds breeding proper right here — so we aren’t completely alone. It’s at all times thrilling to return right here as a result of I am obsessed with birds. When I’ve the possibility, I’m going to the nunatak and observe the birds which can be breeding there, or I am going to relaxation on Sunday. All of it is dependent upon the climate,” says Robert.

Meals and morale are intertwined

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

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

Courtesy Worldwide Polar Basis

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

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 might probably look like one other planet totally. Whereas the station is snug and effectively outfitted (Robert described it as being “very nice… like a chalet in Switzerland”), the intense isolation, unpredictable polar climate, and months away from residence and family members can put on down even essentially the most intrepid.

“In Antarctica, meals is essential for workforce morale — it is very important guarantee individuals are joyful across the desk and collect collectively after a protracted day. I prefer to prepare dinner desserts and truffles so that folks could be joyful on the finish of the day,” says Duconseille.

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

“It is laborious for the primary few days after I depart my household. However when you arrive, you are on this setting the place you are work-focused and captivated by the gorgeous environment. Life is thrilling, there may be at all times one thing taking place. We’re caring for lots of people and scientific actions.”

Leaving Antarctica once more is bittersweet.

“On the finish of summer season, we’re joyful to return residence, but it surely’s a blended feeling: we’re unhappy to go away Antarctica,” says Duconseille. “It is an unbelievable setting and a novel life that we have now right here.”