Celebrating Midwinter in Antarctica
British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is celebrating Midwinter’s Day (Monday 21 June) as staff in three British Antarctic Territory Research Stations mark the shortest and darkest day of the year on the frozen continent. The tradition began in the days of heroic exploration of Antarctica with Captain Scott; our science and support teams will celebrate by braving the elements with a Winter Olympics, crazy golf, murder mystery evening and a movie marathon.
This is a particular poignant Midwinter as it is the 60th Anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, which designated Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”. The 43 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is currently taking place in Paris and Antarctic nations are discussing how to protect Antarctica for future generations.
The day will start with Jerry Gillham, King Edward Point Research Station Leader being interviewed live by Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 6 Music at around 8.40am. The programme, Supernature will discuss with Jerry his plans for this special day on station in South Georgia.
Later on, the 35 staff or ‘winterers’ will gather round the radio to listen to the BBC Midwinter Broadcast on BBC World Service Radio (it is also available on 6035 kHz, 6170 kHz, 7305 kHz and 9505 kHz shortwave on 21:30–22:00 GMT). Presented by Cerys Matthews, the programme will include messages of support from friends and family, special guests and the BAS Director, Professor Dame Jane Francis.
Artist Yoko Ono will also be presenting a 24-hour live video stream of the sky from multiple locations around the world, including from Halley VI Research station in Antarctica as part of her TV to See the Sky. Watch the livestream from 1.42pm UK Time.
Rothera Research Station
Rothera Research Station is a hive of frenzied activity at the moment, with people making the final push on their Midwinter presents. Matthew Phillips, Station Leader will deliver teas and coffees to people’s rooms first thing in the morning. The team will get dressed- up late afternoon and meet to hand out the presents. After that, it’s the start of a several course meal prepared by the Wintering Chef. They will take a short break from the food to huddle round the radio in the Operations Tower to listen to the BBC Antarctic Midwinter broadcast.
Matthew Phillips says: “Antarctica is a place of extremes. We last saw the sun on the 25 May and are only afforded a few hours of twilight a day. The 21st marks a significant turn in the tide, by the end of July the sun will be visible on station again and only a few months after that it won’t really get dark. The long darkness is part and parcel of wintering, but it’s nice to know the sun is on its way back”
Bird Island Research Station
At Bird Island Research Station near South Georgia, Station Leader Claire Stainfield will start the day by making breakfast for her four-person team. A recent ship arrival has resulted in a rare delivery of fresh food, so she will making smoothies and banana pancakes. The team will exchange handmade gifts and have a range of activities, before celebrating with the Midwinter Feast – a traditional turkey roast dinner, pigs in blankets and Claire’s famous Sticky Toffee pudding!
Claire Stainfield says: “At Bird Island Research Station excitement has been building whilst preparing for Midwinter celebrations, an event that’s been anticipated since the end of a busy summer season and signifies we’re halfway there.”
“Midwinter is not only a time to celebrate as a station team, but also with the rest of the BAS and other Antarctic stations. We may be miles apart, but we’re all wintering together, something reinforced by the long-standing tradition of exchanging greetings and photographs between Antarctic stations of all nations.”
King Edward Point Research Station
Jerry Gillham, Station Leader at King Edward Point Research Station in South Georgia will also be getting up early to cook the eight-person team breakfast, followed by a range of social activities, listening to the Midwinter Broadcast and exchanging homemade gifts.
Jerry Gillham says: “Midwinter is special because you know everyone across the continent is celebrating together. We’ll get messages and photos from every station and there’s a sense of a wider community and camaraderie with these people we’ll never meet but have something in common with.”
“Although we still have day and night, we don’t get the sun on station for about two months and that affects you more than you realise, so knowing it’s on its way back is nice.”
Find out more about British Antarctic Survey’s Research Stations.