FEATURED | Abandoned Antarctic Research Stations
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FEATURED | Abandoned Antarctic Research Stations

By K. Schuk
Independent Cartographer

Lenin’s bust, pointed in the direction of Moscow, at Pole of Inaccessibility Station in January 2007. Source:H.Cookson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Southern_Pol_of_Inaccessibility_Henry_Cookson_team_n2i.JPG. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Maintaining a research station on the world’s coldest, harshest, and most remote continent requires many things: a scientific mandate to give it purpose; a continuous influx and exchange of personnel to prevent isolation-induced burnout; constant structural maintenance and restocking and supplies; and, most importantly, the government support and funding to keep them operating. While the vast majority of scientific research stations established since the end of World War II persist to this day, there have been  more than a handful of countries that have shut down research stations. Some stations were properly dismantled; others were simply abandoned to the elements.

Pole of Inaccessibility (Polyus Nedostupnosti) (Soviet Union)

Perhaps the most famous of all modern abandoned Antarctic stations is Pole of Inaccessibility (Polyus Nedostupnosti), built by the Soviet Union in December 1958 specificially at a location believed to be the most remote point of Antarctica (whether it actually is depends upon both how you measure and whether or not you include the various ice shelves surrounding the continent). All edifices and supplies were hauled overland by tractor. While Pole of Inaccessibility initially gained infamy for its rather short period of operation (the station only operated for 12 days between 14-26 December 1958, being abandoned so quickly due to the realisation that it was an unsafe location for permanent occupation), but it also became famous for what was left behind: a radio transmitter and a four-person hut topped with a statue of LeninA US expedition visited the station in late 1964-early 1965, but otherwise the base remained untouched until a British-Canadian expedition reached the site via kite-powered sleds on 19 January 2007, finding the old hut buried in snow with only Lenin’s bust visible above the snow. The view of Lenin’s visage stranded in the Antarctic has since become a popular image across the Internet.

(Soviet Union/Russia)

When it comes to abandoned stations, the easy leader is the Soviet Union/Russia. In addition to Pole of Inaccessibility, six other stations have been closed by either the USSR or Russia. For five of these stations, closures came as a result of funding cutbacks in advance of the collapse of the Soviet Union; they remain in place awaiting new funding to reopen them. Five of the siz stations (Druznaya, 1987-95; Komsomolskaya, 1957-62; Leningradskaya, 1971-91; Russkaya, 1980-90; Soyuz, 1982-87) also had relatively short lifespans. Only Molodyozhnaya (1962-90), the largest and most used of the stations, made it longer than two decades.  While Russia has stated its intention over the past seven years to reopen Leningradskaya, Molodyozhnaya, and Russkaya, no direct actions have been taken. The 2012 deployment of the polar research ship Akademik Tryoshnikov is an indication that these reactivation plans, although delayed, are still on the table.

Molodyozhnaya Station as it sits today on the shores of the Cosmonauts Sea/ Source: Google Map

Ellsworth (United States/Antarctica)

Despite only being in existence for five years, Ellsworth had the distinction of being operated separately by two different countries. Named for the American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, the station was established in 1957 at Gould Bay on the Weddell Sea‘s Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf.  The base’s establishment took place during the International Geophysical Year and most of the experiments and observation there were based around atmospheric observations. At the end of 1958, the US handed control of the station over to Argentina, which claimed the area as part of its massive Argentine land claim (a claim that would be suspended in 1959 as part of the Antarctic Treaty). Argentina continued the atmospheric observations, as well as ice shelf studies, until closing the base in 1962. Being located an the ice shelf, Ellsworth would eventually be subsumed by the ice.

World Park Base (Greenpeace)

The only non-governmental base on this list belongs to Greenpeace, who constructed a base at Cape Evans on Ross Island in 1987 as part of a campaign to have the signatory countries of the Antarctic Treaty declare the entire continent of Antarctica a ‘world park‘ in order to prevent potential commercial exploitation of Antarctica’s resources. For five years, the environmental organisation maintained a foothold on the island with no assistance from outside governments, all the while decrying the environmental impact generated by the various research stations around the continent. Following the signing of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty in October 1991, Greenpeace declared victory and dismantled the base. Today, almost no visible evidence is left of the base, although 5 tonnes of soil had to be removed to prevent contamination; the organisation stating that up to 30m3 of soil may have been contaminated with fuel. The areas where soil had to be stripped away were then backfilled with sediments taken from the nearby beach in order to prevent the loss of permafrost. As with Vanda, the remediation process was successful.

Further Reading

Daily Mail (2007). British three reach pole of inaccessibility. 20 January 2007. Available athttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-430167/British-reach-pole-inaccessibility.html. Accessed 15 November 2013.

Greenpeace (2011). 1991 – International Treaty saves the Antarctic from deadly threat. 12 September 2011. Available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/history/how-we-saved-antarctica/. Accessed 14 November 2013.

Maritime Professional (2012). Russian-buit Research Ship Antarctic Ready. 17 October 2012. Available athttp://www.maritimeprofessional.com/News/348564.aspx. Accessed 16 November 2013.
Miklós, V. (2013). 8 Abandoned Antarctic Whaling Stations and Bases that are Still Amazing. io9, 7 April 2013. Available at http://io9.com/8-abandoned-antarctic-whaling-stations-and-bases-that-a-471066973. Accessed 16 November 2013.

Neumann, T. (2007). Pole of Inaccessibility. Norweigian-U.S. Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica. Available athttp://traverse.npolar.no/historical-traverses/pole-of-inaccessibility.html. Accessed 16 November 2013.

Norwegian Polar Institute (2011). The Pole of Inaccessibility. South Pole 1911-2011, 3 December 2011. Available athttp://sorpolen2011.npolar.no/en/diary/south-pole/2011-12-03-the-pole-of-inaccessibility.html. Accessed 16 November 2013.

O’Neill, T. et al. (2013). The Effectiveness of Environmental Assessments on Visitor Activity in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica. In Müller, D.K., et al. (eds.), New Issues in Polar Tourism: Communities, Environments, Politics, 87-110. Springer: Dordrecht.

RIA Novosti (2012). The Research Expedition Vessel “Akademik Tryoshnikov”. 2 February 2012. Available athttp://en.ria.ru/infographics/20120302/171504606.html. Accessed 16 November 2013.

Rothwell, D.R. (1990). The Antarctic Treaty System: Resource Development, Environmental Protection or Disintegration? Arctic 43(3): 264-191. Available at http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic43-3-284.pdf. Accessed 14 November 2013.

Russian Antarctic Expedition (2013). Russian Antarctic Stations – overview. Available athttp://www.aari.aq/stations/list_en.html. Accessed 16 November 2013.