ARCTIC BLOG: Life on the Petermann Ice Shelf, Greenland

11 September, 2015

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Basically, it was riches beyond my wildest dreams.  There’s nothing financial about it, but the feeling of a shower and knowing that your next meal will be a three course affair prepared by somebody else after an extended period of living in the field is riches beyond compare.

Camp site on Petermann Ice Shelf from the air (Mike Brian)
Camp site on Petermann Ice Shelf from the air (Mike Brian)

Granted, our most recent deployment to the Petermann Ice Shelf in North West Greenland was only 19 days; three of our party of four are accustomed to Antarctic field seasons around the 80 day mark.  And temperatures just above zero, and hence the availability of liquid water as opposed to snow and ice for melting, makes a huge difference to levels of convenience.  That said, it still enforced a lifestyle stripped of most modern conveniences.

A kitchen with a view! (Mike Brian)
A kitchen with a view! (Mike Brian)

All aspects of living in the field have to be considered in a way that we’re not used to doing in “normal” life; food preparation, washing-up, waste disposal, toileting, personal hygiene, work routines and entertainment all require careful thought.  One of our number is a stickler for shaving regularly; this is easily achieved with a small quantity of water heated over a camping stove, a wet razor and a recycled porridge tin; on the face of it (if you’ll excuse the pun) quite resourceful, but probably pretty close to what your grandfather’s grandfather did in the past in order to keep up appearances.  Likewise, a plastic biscuit tin, a flannel and a bar of soap plus a litre of hot water in a Thermos flask for a full body wash is probably not that far removed from the norm of one hundred years ago.  A healthy disdain of washing up can be helpful; if you use a little warm water in your bowl after a meal, take a few moments to loosen up the stuck on left overs with your spoon and then, shock horror, drink the result, things are very simple; you’ve got a clean bowl and spoon and no waste water.  Contrast this to the situation where you don’t finish your meal; washing up needing done and a quantity of highly effective “bear attractant” to manage getting rid of.

A loo with a view! (Mike Brian)
A loo with a view! (Mike Brian)

On the other side of the experience, things which are distinctly ordinary at home become luxurious or indulgent in the field.  We all agreed that we ate very well indeed on this deployment.  Upon mentioning this upon our return, I was asked in polite company to describe one of the best meals we had enjoyed.  I did, but it all seemed a bit underwhelming; really, you had to be there.  Likewise, four of us watching an episode of a sitcom on a laptop with a half inch of whisky in a tea mug each might seem like modest evening’s entertainment, but in the field it’s an occasion to be discussed and much looked forward to by us all.

Given a few days I’m sure the showers won’t seem quite so wonderful, and the luxury of three square meals a day with no preparation or washing up on board Icebreaker Oden will become normal again, but for now I’m still wallowing in my newfound riches.

All packed up and waiting to be collected by the helicopter (Markus Karasti)
All packed up and waiting to be collected by the helicopter (Markus Karasti)
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