In this post I’ll try to explain the concept of seasons in Antarctica, what they are and what are the consequences of it all.
When we talk about seasons in Antarctica, we generally talk about two of them: Summer and Winter. Depending on the station (i.e. the geographic latitude or how far south a station is located), these seasons will vary in duration. In Halley (which is where I’m going), Summer season is around 10-12 weeks long, and the remaining 9 months is called Winter. In Rothera their summer is a bit longer (up to around 5 months in duration) and they also deploy a bit earlier. All other stations in Antarctica (not only the British ones) use a similar concept. The other two seasons are simply too difficult to distinguish from Summer and Winter, but also from a practical point of view, there really is no need for more than the two main season.
Not surprisingly, there are two types of appointments with BAS for the South-going staff: summer-only posts (and people who go there for summer are generally referred to as summer staff) and winter posts (with the people doing a winter referred to as winterers or winter staff).
In general the two types of jobs match the seasons described above – a person going for summer will go for anything between a couple of weeks to a couple of months, but their arrival date and their departure date will be within the summer season. Summer staff consist of a lot of maintenance folk, who go there for a relatively short stint, to fix any facilities or equipment that might have broken down during the winter, as well as scientists, who try to use the time they have as much as possible to deploy new instrumentation, make changes to existing one or sometimes remove old, unnecessary equipment.
For winterers, the situation is slightly more complicated – we typically go there at the start of the summer season (as early as possible) and have a hand-over with the outgoing winter staff. This is a period where we try to learn as much as possible from our colleagues who are finishing their jobs, ideally so they can step away from the daily grind and enjoy some time they still have left down South. These guys will typically be sent on a Twin Otter or the Dash 7 plane deep into the field to do some maintenance on the remote instrumentation, etc. They have been working hard throughout the winter and they really deserve it (and we get the chance to do the same at the end of our winter!). We then stay for the whole winter (in Halley this is the full 9 months, which includes 105 days of total darkness; also the winter team at Halley is going to be 13 people this season), and then for most of the following summer, going through the hand-over with the new incoming winter staff. The winter post is typically around 14-15 months on the ice, with anything between 1-4 months of training before that in the UK.
So what does it all mean?
I think you can see a pattern here. Summer is typically full of activity, with loads of jobs to be done (station resupply, garbage removal, maintenance and science projects, staff relief), long days (actually a single day in terms of daylight), lots of people, and a lot of hard work. On the other hand, Winter is where things quieten down, the station and its staff go into the winter mode, most people are gone, and while there’s still a lot of work it is of a different nature – more methodical (think projects!), less pressure, etc.
Two complete opposites, like…. day and night! 🙂