The first confirmed sighting of the mainland Antarctic is attributed to a Russian expedition in 1820, with the first landing thought to be by an American sealer the following year.
Two centuries later, 82 bases from about 30 nations are scattered across the great frozen continent.
South Otago High School old boy Daniel Fenton beamed in via satellite to bring his fellow Balclutha Rotary Club members up›to›date with his life as Antarctica New Zealand’s Scott Base telecommunications technician recently.
‘‘Five minutes outside and you feel like your face is going to fall off,’’ he said.
‘‘But beautiful doesn’t begin to describe it. I could send endless photographs that can’t express how vast and awesome this place is.’’
An apprenticeship in Balclutha led Mr Fenton to a 15›year telecommunications career with Downer, involving a move to Wellington and arrival at Scott Base in September 2021 for a 13›month posting.
The impossibility of calling in spares or specialists means New Zealand ingenuity is alive and well at the cutting edge of scientific exploration, and Mr Fenton’s workshop is literally at the centre of Scott Base.
‘‘They had equipment on a helicopter and their cable kept breaking so I was repairing a connection I’ve never seen before to hold together until they got it back to Massey University.
‘‘One of the science teams pulled out a 700,000›year›old ice core sample they’d finished with. We got to touch it, water that’s been preserved frozen since before the time of man,’’ he said.
Seventy percent of Earth’s fresh water is in the Antarctic but thawing it for use is not energy efficient.
Seawater is desalinated, allowing the 16 people over› wintering at Scott Base a three›minute shower each day.
‘‘It’s a little bit salty but you’re recommended to drink about four litres a day. . .It’s a frozen desert and dehydration stresses and impairs you, which is dangerous here, where a one›hour job might take all day . . .You do miss rain. You miss fresh fruit and vegetables,’’ he said.
Concrete is problematic, but holes drilled into rock accept the steel bases of structures before simply being filled with water which soon freezes like cement.
Scott Base uses wind power but AN8 aviation diesel is the most reliable energy source, especially through the half› year of darkness.
‘‘Burning all that fuel isn’t ideal but we couldn’t be here otherwise and we make up for it in every other way.
‘‘Even losing a sheet of paper to the wind causes an investigation. We bag everything up to take back, we literally leave only footprints.’’
Mr Fenton said it would be full›night by the end of April and the light season activities of skiing and flight excursions would be long gone.
A season of screen entertainment and occasional themed parties awaits between endless maintenance, and waiting for the sun.