Vernadsky Station

Trip Start Jan 17, 2014
Trip End Jan 31, 2014

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Saturday, January 25, 2014

I visited a Ukrainian scientific research base this afternoon, enjoying a shot of vodka in one of the few bars in Antarctica and getting to see an operational Antarctic base for the first time.

Akademik Ioffe dropped anchor about 2:30 p.m. near Galindez Island in the Argentine Islands group (GPS coordinates of our anchoring location: 6513'26.3"S, 6414'46.7"W). I got dressed in my cabin and headed outside a couple minutes before 3:00 to await the kayakers' Zodiac. The first kayaks were dropped to the water at 3:00. Boarded the Zodiac about 3:10 and we were taken to our starting location.

Kayaking lasted about one hour and was mediocre. There was a lot of open-sea paddling and we didn’t see much except for a few big icebergs and some seals. Not as exciting as our previous kayak outings. The sky remained dark gray this afternoon with no sun visible.

We loaded back onto our Zodiac and were taken to the wooden dock at Vernadsky Station (Ukraine), where we arrived at 4:35 (coordinates: 6514'44.6"S, 6415'29.3"W). I changed out of my drysuit and put on my Wetskin overalls and jacket, then my group headed into the station for a tour.

Ukraine purchased this Antarctic station from the United Kingdom for 1 pound ($1.67) in 1996 and renamed it from Faraday Station in honor of Vladimir Vernadsky, the first president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

"A popular remnant from the station’s British era is the pub, with a dartboard, billiards table, and a magnificent carved wooden bar – built by station carpenters who were supposed to be working on something else," according to Lonely Planet. “The pub is richly decorated with flags, banners, and photographs from visiting ships and neighboring stations. One oddity is the pub’s large collection of bras, periodically added to by visitors.”

The station was established in 1947 by the British Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey as Base F, named "Argentine Islands," on nearby Winter Island.

“The base moved to the present site on adjacent Galindez Island in May 1954, where the main building was named ’Coronation House’” after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, according to Wikipedia. “The base was renamed Faraday Station in August 1977 in honor of British scientist Michael Faraday.”

Galindez Island is 0.5 miles long, lying immediately east of Winter Island in the Argentine Islands, Wilhelm Archipelago. It was discovered by the French Antarctic Expedition of 1903–05, who named it for Commander Ismael Galindez of the Argentine Navy, who was dispatched in the “Uruguay” ship to search for the French when the expedition was feared lost early in 1905, according to Wikipedia.

After its transfer from the UK in 1996, “the National Antarctic Scientific Center of Ukraine continues a program of meteorology, upper atmospheric physics, geomagnetism, ozone, seismology, glaciology, ecology, biology and physiology research,” according to Wikipedia. Vernadsky is the only Antarctic base operated by Ukraine.

The station consists of nine buildings standing on rock foundations, according to Wikipedia. A 1961 extension at the east end of the hut provided living quarters for 15 people. Major alterations in 1980 updated the living and working accommodation. A two-story extension provides sleeping accommodation for 24 people, a clothing store, boiler room, and reverse osmosis plant on the ground floor. Upstairs are a lounge, library, dining room, souvenir shop, and kitchen. The lounge is considered the southernmost public bar in the world, where visitors can purchase $3 shots of vodka (made on the premises).

The old part of the building is now mostly laboratories and work rooms, together with the surgery and washrooms. The generator shed was erected in 1978-79, with the old one now used as a frozen food store and a carpenter's workshop. Other buildings include two non-magnetic buildings, a balloon launching shed (now skidoo garage), and a general store.

This year Vernadsky Station is staffed by 12 Ukrainians who make up the XVIII Ukrainian Antarctic Expedition.

As one of the longest operating bases in Antarctica, Vernadsky Station has been the subject of scientific research studies on long-term temperature trends that indicate global warming. A study published in the April 2013 issue of the International Journal of Climatology examined the daily observed temperature at the Faraday/Vernadsky station from 1947 to 2011. It concluded that “Faraday/Vernadsky is experiencing a significant warming trend of about 0.6C [1.1F]/decade over the last few decades. Concurrently, the magnitude of extremely cold temperatures has reduced.”

My group entered the station at 4:50. Two weather monitors showed the current outside temperature is 1.3C (34F). A scientist gave us a brief tour of the ground floor, which includes offices and a small gym. We were then invited upstairs at 4:57, where there is a kitchen and post office. I mailed two postcards at a cost of $3 each. This is one of only a few post offices where visitors may send mail from Antarctica. Stamps for letters cost $6. Mail will take several months to be delivered – so it’s not a very timely means of communication but recipients will no doubt be thrilled to receive mail with a postmark from the Seventh Continent!

In addition to selling postage and accepting outgoing mail, the post office sells commemorative postcards and envelopes for $2 to $3 each. Vernadsky Station also has a souvenir shop where tourists may purchase gifts including Antarctica artwork, station T-shirts, patches, and medals. I purchased a souvenir wooden paddle wheel for $25 and a medal for $10 that I will use in my keychain collection.

I walked out of the giftshop into the Faraday Bar, where I ordered a $3 shot of vodka and downed it with two other Ioffe passengers. I then sat down next to Expedition Leader Chad Gaetz and enjoyed some complimentary cookies.

Exited the station at 5:30 and boarded a Zodiac 10 minutes later for transportation to our next site, Wordie House on neighboring Winter Island (home of the original British Faraday Station).

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