Last week, environmental scientists announced more evidence from satellite data that Antarctic ice shelves were melting and crumbling into the sea - which some people ascribe to global climate change. The south pole is a cold place, but it's a hotbed of research. But how do all the scientists, support staff, and others in Antarctica live there for months at a time without physical or psychological damage?
Very few people "overwinter" in Antarctica - staying all year round through the months of darkness. The support staff picked to stay during the dark months undergoes psychological screening to make sure that they can withstand the stresses of life in the dark and cold, and even then there are occasional problems. Some early Antarctic explorers even stocked straitjackets among their supplies
One Antarctic explorer came through with flying colors, however - Ernest Shackleton. In 1914, Shackleton set out to try to be the first explorer to cross the Antarctic continent from sea to sea. His ship, the Endurance, became frozen into pack ice ice near the Weddell Sea. From the middle of January, 1915, through October, the Endurance was frozen into the ice. The 24 men on board hunted seals and penguins on the ice to help supplement their food supplies. In late October, the ice began to crush the Endurance and they abandoned ship. They camped on the ice and marched westward, carrying two small boats. In April of 1916, they were able to use the boats to make it to Elephant Island - after 16 months off solid land.
Later that month, Shackleton and five others left the rest of the team on Elephant Island and set off to try to reach help. After 16 days, they landed in South Georgia - and then Shackleton and two of the men faced a seventeen mile journey over glaciers and mountains to reach a whaling village. They summoned help, rescued the three men they had left behind on the other side of the island, and then set off for Elephant Island, where they retrieved the other men who had been waiting there for over three months. Miraculously, every member of the Shackleton expedition survived.
On this hour of Science Friday, we'll talk about that amazing voyage - and about what living conditions are like in modern-day Antarctica