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Antarctica is earth’s coldest, most desolate,
most isolated, windiest, driest, and southernmost continent.
与世隔绝 风干物燥 位于地球最南端
All but 2% of the land-mass is covered
in ice thousands of feet thick.
Human eyes did not gaze upon the continent until 1820.
Human feet did not touch Antarctica until 1895.
It is not a place built for humans, but still,
thousands of people live there for up to years on end.
but how do they get there,
how do they live there,
and how does Antarctica work?
Antarctica has thousands of residents, significant infrastructure,
and a large transport network,
and yet it’s one of the very few areas of land
on earth not part of any country.
Seven countries have made Antarctic claims
— Chile, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia,
智利 阿根廷 英国 挪威 澳大利亚
France and New Zealand.
But they are exactly that, claims.
The only real gauge of whether a country’s territorial claim is real
is if other countries recognize it,
and overwhelmingly, these claims are not recognized.
Australia’s claim, for example,
is only recognized by the United Kingdom, Norway,
France and New Zealand,
countries which clearly have a vested interest
in the recognition of Antarctic claims.
For the most part, these claims are ignored.
One doesn’t go through customs upon arrival in the claims
and certain of them overlap with other claims.
The more universally recognized interpretation is that Antarctica is an international zone.
Just like outer space and the ocean.
Antarctica is considered part of the common heritage of mankind,
meaning that it should be preserved immaculately
for all future generations forever,
that’s easier said than done.
The seminal piece of legislation regulating the continent is the Antarctic Treaty.
Just as the cold war was heating up in the late 1950’s,
the United States, the Soviet Union and all other countries
with an interest in Antarctica gathered together to decide
how the continent would be used.
They emerged with a future-facing treaty
that solved most political disputes and issues
with the continent, except for one.
In its text, the treaty specifically says,
“Nothing contained in the present treaty shall be interpreted as a renunciation
by any Contracting Party of previously asserted
rights of or claims to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica.”
Essentially, they didn’t solve the sovereignty issue
because it was too difficult to solve,
but they did ban military presence, mining,and nuclear explosions
which has helped enormously in keeping the last continent pristine.
So that brings us to today.
There are no large scale commercial operations in Antarctica
thanks to that treaty
The vast majority of individuals are there for research.
Of course, living and maintaining a base
on the world’s most desolate continent is hugely expensive,
but it’s worth it
for the research that can only be conducted in Antarctica.
Some individuals are there to study the continent itself
its wildlife, its geology,and its climate
包括大陆的野生生物 地质 气候
but others use the area to study the entire world.
Ice cores can be used to track historic atmospheric carbon levels,
underground ponds can be tapped
to find ancient microbial life unique to the area,
and ice thickness can be monitored to
understand how sea levels will rise.
Scientists even use Antarctica to look at space.
As such as isolated place,
Antarctica has a very low background radiation and virtually no light pollution,
which allows astronomers to use various techniques to peer into deep space.
Scientists are performing groundbreaking research in Antarctica,
but how do they even get there?
The difficulty in getting to Antarctica all stems from its weather.
The all-time record high at the south pole is 9.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
The coasts are significantly warmer
where the average summer high is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit,
but still, weather above freezing anywhere in Antarctica is an anomaly.
As mentioned, this means there is virtually no bare ground
Nearly the entire continent is covered in thick ice and snow.
Therefore, the only real choice when building an Antarctic airstrip
is whether to make it on ice or snow.
One thing to remember is that Antarctica is a desert.
The coastal regions, where most of the research bases are,
do experience the most snow
but still then, that’s a maximum of eight inches per year.
The south pole, meanwhile,
only sees 2-3 inches of snowfall per year.
It doesn’t snow much, but when it does,
it sticks around for centuries.
Therefore, a runway built on ice or snow is fairly permanent.
因此 在这冰雪上建的跑道 能永恒存在
It doesn’t get buried as one might in Canada or Russia.
McMurdo Station’s Pegasus Field, for example,
was used for more than 40 years
before it closed in 2016 to be replaced by the new Phoenix Airfield.
Phoenix Airfield is a compacted snow runway.
Machines are used to pack the snow
until it’s dense enough to support
a fully loaded, half-million pound C-17 wheeled cargo plane.
But compacted-snow runways have a disadvantage — they can melt.
During the warmest months of the summer,
the snow can warm and soften enough that it is
no longer safe to land wheeled aircraft,
so that’s why there’s the other type of runway —
blue ice runways.
These ice runways are built
on areas of glacial ice where there’s no snow accumulation.
Ice is much more resilient to warmer temperatures,
so these runways can be used year-round.
Runways on the sea-ice are also used typically
at the beginning of the summer research season
in early November until December
when the southern hemisphere summer begins and the ice starts to break up.
这时 南半球的夏季开始 冰雪开始融化
Once the coasts are ice-free,
cargo ships can also bring supplies into the major coastal stations,
and from there, the internal logistics network gets to work.
Large planes are used to get as much cargo and
as many passengers to the continent as
inexpensively as possible.
There are certain airports on other continents that serve as gateways to the Antarctic.
Christchurch New Zealand Airport, for example,
sends about 100 flights per year and
5,500 passengers to Antarctica
and serves as the staging area for the New Zealand, American,
and Italian Antarctic logistics operations.
From there, it’s only a five-hour flight
to McMurdo Station — the largest Antarctic research station.
到达 麦克默多站 最大的南极科考站
is the major Antarctic gateway,
flights do also leave from Cape Town, South Africa and Punta Arenas, Chile.
These larger inter-continental planes typically land
at the major blue ice and compacted snow runways near the coast.
but then many of these passengers and much of this cargo needs to get inland.
The inland research bases tend to be smaller and there are fewer of them,
but they are still significant.
The American Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, for example,
has a population of 150 people
in the summer and there are also smaller Italian
French, Russian, Japanese, and German stations
法国站 俄罗斯站 日本站和德国站
away from the coasts.
For the American Antarctic operations, McMurdo station operates as the logistics hub.
Nearly all cargo and passengers arrive there
on larger cargo planes or cargo ships.
From there, passengers and some cargo
are transferred most often onto Lockheed LC-130 planes.
These prop planes are specifically designed for Arctic and Antarctic operations.
They have retractable skis that allow them to land on soft,
non-compacted snow and there
are only ten in existence.
Polar operations often mean taking off at high altitudes where the air is thin.
The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station,
where the plane often flies to, for example,
is surprisingly at 9,300 feet above sea-level.
That’s even higher than the highest elevation commercial airport in the US.
When the air is thin wings generate less lift,
so the speed needed to takeoff is higher and so,
in order to be able to takeoff
at higher elevations, this LC-130 plane has rockets
to help speed it up at take-off.
Thanks to its skis,
this plane can operate to those places like the South Pole station
that don’t have compacted snow or blue ice runways.
While passengers and some cargo
like fresh food take the quick two hour flight from
McMurdo Station to the South Pole, there is another way.
Flights are hugely expensive and
the United States Antarctic Program works on a limited budget,
so there’s an effort being made to reduce shipping costs.
Therefore, they built a road.
Just like the runways this road is made
from compacted snow and stretches 995 miles
from McMurdo Station to the South Pole.
Using this South Pole traverse,
the United States Antarctic Program runs convoys of tractors
pulling sleds of cargo across the ice and snow.
This trip takes about 40 days one-way,
but it still is significantly cheaper than flights
and can handle cargo too large to fit in an LC-130 cargo plane.
Of course, Antarctica is still Antarctica — one of the harshest climates in the world.
当然 南极洲仍然是南极洲 世界上气候最严酷的地方之一
Whenever a plane leaves from New Zealand or South Africa or Chile to Antarctica,
it’s required to take enough fuel to fly all the way to its destination,
attempt landing, and fly back to its origin if landing is not possible.
尝试着陆 如果无法着陆 则飞回原点
Planes fail, equipment breaks, and weather changes,
飞机失事时有发生 设备容易损坏 天气常常变化
so Antarctica just isn’t a place conducive to reliability.
For this reason, planes are prohibited
from landing or taking off in the dark and of course,
in the winter in Antarctica,
it’s dark for 24 hours a day.
Therefore, for seven months out of the year, there are no planes,
因此 一年中有七个月 这里没有飞机
no boats, no link at all
between Antarctica and the rest of the world.
The lack of transport links
during the winter have as much to do with the cold as the dark.
At McMurdo station where most ships dock on the coast,
the winter temperature rarely rises
above zero degrees Fahrenheit,
meaning that the coast is blocked with sea-ice.
And meanwhile at the South Pole station,
the average July high temperature is -67 degrees Fahrenheit
meaning that if any plane landed there, its fuel would freeze within minutes.
Of course, the large bases,
like McMurdo Station which balloons to well over 1,000 residents in the summer,
夏季时 居民迅速增加 超过1000
need maintenance over the winter,
and some science experiments need to be conducted year round,
so people have to stay in Antarctica, alone,
in the dark, for the entire winter,
with no link to the outside world.
In recent years there have been a small number
of exceptions to this lack of flights in winter,
mostly due to medical evacuation flights,
but for the most part, once the last plane leaves in February,
everyone still in Antarctica is stuck there until the following November.
All food, fuel, and supplies
are stocked there well before and a small number of people,
45 in the case of the south pole station, stick around to keep the bases running.
In a sense, the people who stay the winter
in Antarctica are even more isolated than
the astronauts on the International Space Station.
There are few places humans can go
where they are seven months away from medical care,
from food, from civilization.
Those living and working
on the last continent endure some of the harshest conditions on this earth,
but for the pursuit of science,
all this hardship, all this work,
and all this cost is worth it.
If you want to live and work in Antarctica,
your best shot to get there is if you’re a scientist.
In particular, a lot of those working there are astronomers,
and the best place to get a basic understanding of astronomy is brilliant.org.
Brilliant’s interactive quizzes teach you
by developing your intuition, not by memorization.
With their straightforward explanations and simple graphics,
you really learn a lot quickly.
I usually have a blast while taking Brilliant courses,
they’re designed to be interesting,
and in this astronomy course you can learn things
like how to measure the size of the universe,
if life on other planets is possible,
and how everything on earth is actually made of old stars.
By going to Brilliant.org/Wendover,
you can get started for free and then,
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you will get 20 % off.
This video was made possible by Brilliant.