Isolation

Lone expeditioner on ice field, Law Dome
Wandering on ice field, Law Dome (Photo: Grant Dixon)
Hut and tent against a blue night sky at twilight

For all the harshness of the environment, and despite better communication technology, the major and enduring dangers to the individual are the isolation, and the problem of getting along with others.

  • Discuss some of the difficulties that might be experienced when living in Antarctica. Have groups of students rank them in order of importance. Have students choose one problem to research and try to find solutions. (The problems could include fire, field shelters, living in an isolated community, 24-hour sunlight in summer, winter darkness, blizzards, whiteouts, freezing temperatures, crevasses, frostbite, disposal of waste, water and electricity supply, communication.)
  • Have students make a list of 12 items they would just have to take from home if they were going to spend a year in Antarctica. Each person can only take 1 cubic metre in volume, and no plants or animals. What wouldn't they need to take?
  • Use Don and Margie Macintyre's gripping account of their winter at Commonwealth Bay alone as a springboard to discuss the stresses of isolation. (Either read extracts from their book, or view the video, both entitled Two Below Zero.)

Every morning I have to struggle to stop myself from crying and feeling so down. I'm on holidays but feel like a prisoner with no visitors. Each day I feel intimidated by the vastness of this place and that I am stuck here forever, but I can't see that this is just for year.

From Margie's diary in Two Below Zero, p. 111

The foul weather oppresses us, not so much by its foulness but because it seemed rude, not to say downright devious, of the forces of nature to hurl winter conditions at us when humans had officially declared spring. Margie resented this more than I did. She would cry several times a day, asking where spring had gone, and focus too closely (as far as I was concerned) on the minor details of our Antarctic life, such as how many days had passed since I had cleaned my teeth. I would daydream, planning my adventures into the next century… Perhaps I should have daydreamed less and cleaned my teeth more.

From Don in Two Below Zero, p. 177

Looking forward to the penguin arrival. Can't wait to hear the noise, smell the foul smell and just watch something that is living move. That is the loneliest part. Not being able to watch another living thing has been the hardest part.

From Margie's diary in Two Below Zero, p. 183

Traverse life (where a small group of expeditioners spend extended periods, up to four months, in small vans travelling in the interior) is the ultimate test of personal relations in Antarctica. There is a similarity with space travel, and members of recent traverses assisted in a NASA-AAD joint experiment, charting their mood swings and emotions daily on a specially designed laptop computers which sent data directly to Houston, Texas.

  • Have the students think of all the similarities between life in Antarctica, and life in space, and why scientists from NASA might be interested in studying Australia's Antarctic communities.
  • Ask students to think of other remote or isolated working locations (e.g. oil rigs, geological surveys, remote cattle stations, mining towns, remote weather stations) and describe similarities and differences between these and Antarctic stations.
This page was last modified on January 23, 2014.