While waiting for this year's Concordia crew to start sending updates, Angelo Galeandro sent us his experience of spending almost a year at the remote research station:
My story begins in July 2010, when a colleague of mine asked me if I was interested in spending a full year in Antarctica. Actually, she was joking, but I took her seriously. A research team was looking for someone to monitor their equipment during the winter in Concordia, Antarctica. I presented myself and, a few months later, I realised one of the greatest dreams of my life. For the first time walked on the ice of the White Continent of which I had only read about in books and seen in some documentary before.
The emotions and feelings I experienced from the moment I left home after saying goodbye to my loved ones, over the entire period of my stay in Antarctica and beyond, have been so many that it is difficult to find the right words to describe them in the space of few lines.
The first strange feeling that I had was viewing the Sun at night. Despite this, I never had trouble sleeping during the summer season. The first week I spent in the Italian station Mario Zucchelli, located on the coast, where the climate is much less harsh than you might imagine, especially during the summer season. Some days, the temperature rises above 0°C and, since the air is very dry, without wind you feel as if it is more like +15°C. "It's amazing" I thought, "Am I really in Antarctica, the coldest continent on Earth?".
On December 15 I went to Concordia, where I lived for the next few months. The base is located further inland and is situated at about 3200 m above sea level, so the environmental conditions are very challenging due to the low atmospheric pressure and reduced oxygen. The thing I remember most was the cold air on my face when I left the heated cabin of the airplane. I was born and raised in Southern Italy, a warm region, where average temperatures in the winter are around 5°C to 10°C, so sudden temperatures of -20°C was an unforgettable experience.
During the summer season (from November to early February) Concordia accommodates up to 90 people. Life is frenetic, working for most of the day and, in some ways, it does not seem to be a remote research base. Yet, when people start to leave, the separation is felt in a way incomparable to any other situation.
And so the beginning of the winter season arrived. On February 7, the last aircraft departed with the summer crew. 13 colleagues and myself would live completely isolated from the rest of the world for about nine months. It would have been a strong and memorable experience in its own rightand was in many ways too extreme, even if not comparable to the experiences of the Antarctic explorers in the early 1900s.
I was in charge of Atmosphere Physics and the Meteorological Observatory scientific sections. The equipment I monitored is outside, about 1 km from the base. I had to go out every day, even during the coldest period, when temperatures dropped below -70°C which with windchill could be perceived as below -90°C. Although the jobs I did were different than usual, I tried to do them in a careful way, knowing the importance of continuous data collection to formulate models.
Concordia is not the ideal working environment for measuring instruments. The extremely low temperatures and the air rarefaction represent stress conditions for any long-lasting operation, so it is often necessary to repair malfunctions. Unfortunately I could not fix all of the malfunctions, but I imagine the balance of my activities is entirely positive, thanks to the collaboration of colleagues, who helped me in the hardest conditions.
I remember one of the biggest problems I fixed with the precious help of Alessandro, the electrician. The weather station was switched off due to a blackout. The equipment is located outdoors and the nearest heated shelter is about 250 m from there. It was June, in the middle of winter and the temperature was about -65°C and we only had a pair of portable lamps of very limited autonomy (batteries run down very quickly if it is very cold). It is very dangerous to turn on any electronic equioment in very low temperatures without preheating it. In addition, we were forced to work without gloves for some operations and we needed to return to the shelter periodically to keep us warm. So, for a job which would require just ten minutes under normal conditions, took about four hours in Concordia!
Another negative experience related to the winter was insomnia. For almost 50 consecutive days, from the end of May until mid-July, I slept just under three hours a day. I had lost all track of time, but despite that I never lost my good mood.
The Antarctic winter also offers moments of rare beauty. The landscape illuminated by the full moon is the most fascinating show I have ever seen.The absence of dust, light pollution and very low humidity allow a unique view of the nightly sky and the Milky Way. It seems to be directly linked to the universe. Not to mention the auroras, light trails across the sky from one horizon to the other. In front of all these natural wonders you feel infinitely small.
Living in an isolated and restricted environment for a long period is a severe trial for anyone. In addition, people of different nationalities and different customslive in Concordia, so the creation of factions within a group is easy. The coexistence of various components had its ups and downs, but common sense prevailed. My experience with human relations was very positive, I never had any problems with anyone and it is always a pleasure to hear or see all of my ex-winterovers.
It is hard to believe, but the worst period coincided with the end of the experience. I experienced the arrival of the summer researchers as an invasion of my personal space by strangers. Concordia was my home, my living environment. But everything has to end. And so the day when I had to say goodbye to that inhospitable place which had made us an integral part of it, finally came. The contrast of emotions was very strong, on the one hand the sadness of departure, on the other hand the desire to go back to familiar places and see loved ones.
I missed also some things apparently trivial: colours, scents and sounds of nature, trees, rain and even thunderstorms. But I had to get used to noise, pollution, mobile phones, cars, deadlines and hectic life. It was not so easy to come back to normal life.
I had a wonderful, unforgettable experience which made me more reflective and critical about the things that are really important for me. I miss Concordia a lot, so, if I have the chance, I want to go back there, not expecting to experience the stayin the same way, but feeling sure that it will be a completely different and new experience.