Before departing for Antarctica many months ago, I was invited to lunch to meet Dr Charles Swithinbank, by friends at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge (UK). For those of you who don’t know who he is, you should (http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/people/swithinbank/). Charles is a heavily published British Polar Medal Holder and Glaciologist by initial training and has spent over 60 years involved in polar research – being the first foreigner to overwinter at a Russian Antarctic base. At around my age, in 1949, he was the youngest member of the joint
Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1949-52 and has overwintered in Antarctica three times with around 20 summer seasons spent on the continent.
Lunch in Cambridge
We had a wonderful lunch and I very much enjoyed listening to his stories and wealth of knowledge about Antarctica – experience talks!
Now I have signed copies of all of his books and most enjoyed reading ‘Vodka on Ice’. In person, he told me how he had taken two of his favourite bottles of Port. On the first night, he had almost regretted bringing out one of the two bottles to dinner, expecting to share a short tipple from each with his colleagues, savouring the rest to be shared over the long winter yet to come. Except he was of unaware of the Russian tradition that any bottle of alcohol brought as a gift to the table, should be finished in respect of the kind act. He smiled as he understood. Man down. Certainly I have experienced my own cultural stories to bring home, living on a French- Italian Antarctic station is unique. This highlights one of the best aspects of living in Antarctica – to live as the guest of another culture – can only be compared to being invited and accepted into a remote and isolated tribal community – that is how I feel – and I have only ever experienced similar feelings to this from living within such communities from the Amazon to the Arctic.
After lunch he showed me his diaries – for each date he had spent in Antarctica, he had meticulously recorded each day’s weather conditions including temperature, recalling certain dates for their treacherous weather. Later he went on to inspire me – advising that for where I was going- Dome Charlie at 3233 metres high up on the crest of Antarctica’s interior – having looked through some of the data, this year we may experience the coldest temperature the world has ever recorded. Imagine that! THE WORLD’S COLDEST TEMPERATURE EVER RECORDED. Oh dear god.
The current world record for the world’s coldest temperature was obtained in the same year I was born in 1983 (just a couple of months off in fact) here in Antarctica at Russia’s Vostok station … Minus 89.2 degrees Celsius on July 21st.
Vostok, Southern Pole of Cold
Where we could walk out in most directions with nothing for over 1000km, in one direction, only around 580km away sits Vostok station - Vostok is in fact our closest neighbour.
The coldest temperature ever recorded here at Concordia Station was just a couple of degrees off. But really below -50, what does a couple of degrees even mean? Here, if you loose your glove – you loose your fingers or hand. Thats what it means to me.
To put things in perspective, conversely the warmest temperature recorded at Concordia this year, it was minus 15.6 degrees Celsius. Right now, I would wear a T-shirt, shorts and sandals outside if we had that weather.
I am left to wonder in the winter darkness if Concordia will break the record for the world’s coldest temperature ever recorded… or if anyone will loose any fingers.
Trip to Mars
And before I forget, when I met Charles he had asked me to pass on to ESA mission headquarters that when they do send a manned mission to Mars, he “wanted to go”.
The American Polar Society reminds us that a statement attributable to Maxim Gorky, Russian dramatist, applies to Charles with respect to his career and achievements: “In the darkness of the polar night, the sun of human intellect now shines brightly.”
Song of the Day:
Instant Karma by John Lennon – if only for his lyrics… ‘Well we all shine on, Like the moon and the stars and the sun, Well we all shine on, Every one, come on, Instant Karma’s gonna get you, Gonna knock you off your feet.’
|Temperature||-54.4 °C||Windchill||-62.4 °C|
|Dew Point||-60.8 °C||Pressure||652.8 hPa|
|Wind Speed||1.2 m/s||Relative Humidity||46 %|
|2.4 knots||Wind Origin||274°|