Meet the man who spent a YEAR on Antarctic research bases (with one buried 60ft in the snow)


(WorldKings) Temperatures of -49C, no hope of rescue if things go wrong... and no windows: Meet the man who spent a YEAR on Antarctic research bases (with one buried 60ft in the snow)

Dr James Broadway was a medical doctor on the British Antarctic Survey base and in a fascinating conversation with MailOnline Travel revealed how he coped with an existence in a building buried 60ft down in an ice shelf 

The thought of spending a year with just 18 other people in a windowless base in the Antarctic, hundreds of miles from the nearest help, with 100 days of darkness, would fill many people with fear.

Dr Broadway explained that the weather in the Antarctic was cold enough to freeze tears. Pictured is the bar during a night shift

But not Dr James Broadway. He felt 'excited' by the prospect.

He was a medical doctor on the British Antarctic Survey base and in a fascinating conversation with MailOnline Travel revealed how he coped with an existence in a building buried 60ft down in an ice shelf with weather outside that froze tears – and how stopping every day for tea and cake was a carefully observed ritual.

Here Dr Broadway endures a blizzard outside the base. He explained that the warmest it ever got during his stay was 0.5C and the coldest was –49C

Fifty-nine-year-old Dr Broadway, now a consultant anesthetist living in Suffolk, set off for the Antarctic in November 1983 from Southampton when he was 26 on the now-scrapped research vessel the RRS Bransfield.

NhãnDr Broadway's home for a year was the Halley Research Station No 4 (pictured), which he reached after a two-month journey via the Falkland Islands and South Georgia


What lay ahead of him was an adventure to the very end of the Earth.

His home for a year would be the Halley Research Station No 4, which he would reach after a two-month journey via the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

And Dr Broadway was champing at the bit.

He said: 'I was just excited. I couldn't wait to go.'

Though he wasn't oblivious to the dangers involved.

NhãnHull of a trip: This map illustrates Dr Broadway's route to the Antarctic and back

He explained that the nearest help was in the form of a German base 'hundreds of miles away' and that it was so remote that if something went wrong 'there would be no prospect of rescue, or at least very very little'.

He said: 'The ship can only reach the base in the summer [December to February] because of the extent of the sea ice and the weather conditions in the winter. Similarly the base cannot be reached by air without refuelling on route because of the distances and in the winter the conditions are not suitable for flying. So it's complete isolation.'

At one point he did wonder what would happen if disaster struck and they couldn't be shipped out and he thought "well, Shackleton escaped, and I'm sure we could, as well".'

His life there was a quite remarkable one – and so was the journey there.

They docked in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands after picking up supplies in Rio and were handed a minefield map fairly quickly – the Falklands War having finished only recently.

Broadway said the islands were 'bleak and windswept' but that it was still fascinating to be there.

After that they stopped off at Bird Island off the coast of South Georgia, where the Survey has a research station, and docked in Grytviken - Sir Ernest Shackleton's final resting place - on the island proper.

Here, they had a few days to explore.

Desk job: Dr Broadway hard at work on his research. He studied the effects of long periods of low light on mental skills and happiness

Broadway said: 'South Georgia was the most beautiful place I'd ever been to. There were mountains and fjords and glaciers and penguins. It was just magical.'

They then went to Signy Island – another British base - and from there they set sail for the Halley Research Station and 'got in among the sea ice'.

Broadway said: 'The trip from Signy to Halley was just stunning. There were big tabular icebergs floating around, the scenery was just stunning and there were seals and albatrosses. It was just magic.'

At the beginning of January the Bransfield reached the floating ice shelf where the base was built and the slog to unload it began.

A signpost by the base indicates how far it is from places such as Mount Everest and Cape Town

Broadway said: 'The ship tied up against the sea ice by tying up to railway sleepers dropped into the snow. The base was built on this floating ice shelf and in order to get on this shelf, 60 feet above the sea ice, you have to go up these cracks in the ice that get filled with snow. They form natural ramps you can use from the sea ice to get up on top of the ice cliff. It's a natural ramp but they sometimes have to be engineered with bulldozers.

'Everything was then unloaded onto sledges and moved to the base 10 miles away. It took about an hour to reach by Sno-Cat. We worked for three or four days continuously, unloading the ship.'

The base itself was a quite extraordinary place to live.

Dr Broadway explained that over a period of 10 years it had become buried in accumulated snow and was 60 feet down.

There were no windows – not that they would have been any use – and reaching the inside was a matter of negotiating a series of ladders and platforms.

NhãnDazzling: An aurora lights up the night sky in spectacular fashion

This base, Halley 3, was evacuated a week into Dr Broadway's stay as it was deemed too weak to withstand the pressure of the snow and ice – and in fact was eventually crushed,

A remarkable photograph emerged of the base buried in the ice, on the verge of dropping into the sea.

The new base was just a year old and was much nearer the surface.

Dr Broadway revealed that life in the bases was very civilised.

He said: 'It was just like being in an ordinary place. We had aga's to cook on, central heating, there were three generators, so we had electricity. One generator would be running, one on standby and one being serviced. We didn't have a power cut at any point we were there.

'Inside the base was very comfortable and you just wore ordinary clothes, no problem.'

The food was great, too – although none of it was fresh.

Dr Broadway said: 'We had a really fantastic chef, who produced the most amazing meals and he was a restaurant chef, not a canteen cook. And one of the things that keeps morale up in a place like that is good food.

'And the whole base stopped for a cup of tea and a bit of cake at 11 and 4pm.'

Supplies from the Bransfield are unloaded onto the ice shelf. The ship was tethered to railway sleepers that were thrown onto the snow

The only fresh food they had all year came in the form of fresh fruit – delivered by Russians who paid a visit by helicopter.

Boredom on the base, meanwhile, was never an issue for Dr Broadway.

He said: 'I was never bored. But how did we cope? I'm not sure we ever really thought about it. We just got on with life. I guess my personality is such that I can cope with it.

'We were kept very busy, because life on base is inherently busy. There is all the scientific work. The reason that the base is there is for the science. As well as a little bit of flag-waving.

'The scientific programme has to go on. About half the base are scientists and half are support staff. One part of the work is meteorology. Every four hours the weather is observed - the clouds are looked at, the temperature taken, the sunshine looked at, humidity measured and recorded. All of this data is sent back to the World Meterological Organization.

'And every day a meteorological balloon is launched and that's all to help with weather forecasting around the world. And that happens [the readings] every four hours day and night.

'The other science was measuring the ozone and in 1984 that was when the ozone hole was discovered, at Halley. They also look at space weather, the ionosphere and so on.

'It so happens that it's an extremely good place to look at space weather, which with all the satellites up there is incredibly important.

'I was kept busy by my research projects – measuring the effects of low light on happiness and mental agility - and doing a lot of general jobs around that needed to be done in support of the science.

The journey back to the Bransfield by sledge. The ship was only able to visit during the summer months

'I did an awful lot of snow moving, both with a shovel and a bulldozer. I just generally helped out. Partly because I wanted my colleagues to be my research projects, so I thought that if I helped them they'd help me. But also because I don't like not doing anything. I'm a reasonable cook, so I volunteered to work in the kitchen when the cook was on holiday – on his rest day.'

Broadway also skied around the base every day and once a month visited an Emperor penguin colony, 10 miles away.

But how did he cope with the cold?

He explained that the warmest it ever got during his stay was 0.5C and the coldest was –49C – and that –40C was the chilliest he personally experienced.

'That's cold,' he said. 'At that temperature, your tears freeze. One time I couldn't open my eyes because my eyelashes had frozen together.'

South Georgia (pictured) was a stop for Dr Broadway on his epic journey to the end of the earth

Survival in these mind-bogglingly frigid conditions came courtesy of very good technical clothing, including cotton anoraks made using a substance called ventile.

The jackets were 100 per cent windproof – and nicknamed 'windys' - and allowed for sweat to wick, a crucial attribute because frozen sweat could be deadly.

A very long period of darkness also had to be endured.

Dr Broadway said: 'In the winter the sun did not come above the horizon for 100 days but in the summer for 100 days it did not set so it averaged out. However, we all felt less invigorated in the winter.'

News of his experiences in the Antarctic took a long time to filter home, because the only means of communication was sending 200 words on a telex machine, once a month. And he could only receive 200 words a month.

'You got quite good at making words you used meaningful,' he said.

And there's no doubt his time there really was an experience to write home about.

He added: 'As for going back, I would really love to but probably for a visit, not another winter.'   



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