British Antarctic Survey (BAS) staff in the UK and across three Antarctic wintering stations observe the shortest, darkest day of the year on the frozen continent with a host of unique celebrations.
Today (Tuesday 21 June) researchers and operational staff at BAS’ King Edward Point, Bird Island and Rothera Research Station will take part in a decades old tradition to mark the Antarctic Winter Solstice. Midwinter’s Day has been observed in Antarctica since the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration and is a highpoint in the winter season for all those who endure the extreme conditions and twenty-four-hour darkness in the name of scientific research.
This Midwinter Day takes on special significance as it marks six decades since the British Antarctic Survey was born out of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey to become the world leading research institution it is today. As a result, it is an opportunity not only to celebrate but to reflect on the remarkable strides that have been made in polar science in this time.
Midwinter’s Day was originally conceived as Antarctica’s answer to Christmas and this year will see BAS staff on the ground take part in a range of festivities including crazy golf, a murder mystery evening and a movie marathon.
Later today, BAS’ 35 wintering staff or ‘winterers’ will gather around the radio to listen to the BBC Midwinter Broadcast on BBC World Service Radio which is available online and on 9505, 12065 & 7305 kHz shortwave on 21:30–22:00 GMT. The programme is presented by Cerys Matthews and will include messages of support from friends and family, special guests and BAS Director, Professor Dame Jane Francis.
Rothera Research Station
Rothera Research Station is BAS’ largest wintering station and is currently experiencing its busiest time of the winter period. In addition to meeting the station’s vital science and operational needs, Rothera’s winterers have been preparing Midwinter presents to give to each other late this afternoon before tucking into a special several course meal prepared by the Wintering Chef.
Rothera Research Station Leader, Matt Jobson says:
“Midwinter’s Day is the most celebrated day of the Antarctic calendar. After weeks of preparations the winter team will be celebrating the week with a host of activities, taking the opportunity to relax a little, and enjoy the Midwinter celebrations A time to fully appreciate where we are, who we’re with, and the experiences and camaraderie that an Antarctic winter brings.”
Bird Island Research Station
Bird Island Research Station is a hive of zoological research and even on Midwinter Day certain field duties can’t be neglected. This means that the team there will be celebrating and exchanging gifts alongside the seals, penguins, petrels and albatrosses that call the island their home. Midwinter celebrations will include games, gifts and plenty of food.
Bird Island Research Station Leader, Imogen Lloyd says:
“The decorations are up, and we are all (all four of us!) looking forward to a week of Midwinter celebrations, an important day in the Antarctic calendar. We have games and entertainment planned and are hoping for the return of the snow to be able to rebuild our station snowman who sadly didn’t last more than a day. We will be sharing this day with all the wildlife on the island with plenty of work still to do including recording Leopard Seal sightings and GPS tagging Wandering Albatrosses.”
You can hear Imogen discuss Bird Island’s Midwinter Day plans as well as what it is like to be part of Bird Island’s first all-female wintering team on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
King Edward Point Research Station
At this time of year, the busy schedule of daily wildlife monitoring rounds and facilitating field projects with boating has subsided, making way for a full laboratory and base-maintenance programme. The work is never done in the sub-Antarctic when the population of the entire island this winter is fourteen people, all of whom reside at King Edward Point Research Station.
Station Leader, Sarah Clark will start the day by getting up early to cook everybody breakfast – fuel for the planned 10km treadmill run. In the afternoon, the BAS Winterers will team up to cook a meal for all KEP residents followed by listening to the BBC World Service Midwinter Broadcast.
King Edward Point Research Station Leader, Sarah Clark says:
“One of the best things about Midwinter Day is that it reminds you that you are part of the wider research community. While we all rally around to support each other, winter field work can be isolating at times. Midwinter Day is celebrated as a team but also across the continent, and we’ll get messages and photos from every station. There’s a great sense of community in all of that.”
Happy Midwinter Day from everyone at BAS!