On the Antarctic Peninsula, the Vernadsky Base is the most active scientific base I had the honor of visiting during my trip to Antarctica. It’s unlike any other base I’ve seen there!
In 2011, I announced that I was on the 46th parallel in New Zealand. At that point, that was the most Southern point I had been. My new record now is the Vernadsky Research Base, on Antarctica.
A scientific station on Antarctica, for 1 British Pound
The UK sold its Faraday Station to Ukraine in 1994. The British built a more significant base about 100 km away from the old one. Ukraine started using this research base in 1996. Selling the base was, as some said, cheaper than destroying it according to the ecologic rules of Antarctica. That now became Ukraine’s problem.
However, the scientists of the UK that I spoke since aren’t all as happy they abandoned this place. The Brits sold the base for one pound to Ukraine. The piece of 1GBP was embedded in the bar. When Ukraine bought the base, it was named the Vernadsky base, after the first president of the Ukraine Science Society.
Welcome on the Vernadsky Base
The Sarah Vorwerk, the ship I was sailing with on Antarctica, has a long-standing good relationship with the base. So we were welcomed and shown around the place. We had a drink in the bar, which still very much looks like it was when the Brits left the base. The bar is apparently known to have some hard liquor made on-site in certain years. When I visited, the base commander who was in charge had not (yet) allowed it for the current season.
British carpenters built the bar. When one of them, Keith Larrat found out in 2009 that his bar was not, as he had expected, destroyed by the new owner (Ukraine), he sent the construction pictures to the base commander. These are now displayed with his letter on the bar he designed. Small sailing yachts like ours have a long-standing good relationship with the base, to the point that the sailors have the picture of their ship hang in the bar, showing since when they visit the station.
Vernadsky Research Base
Other bases we visited are scientific, mostly in name. Sometimes we felt the base existed as a prestige, not so much as part of the science programs in the country. Not so for the Vernadsky Research Base. Researched showed us around their experiments. With the enthusiast explanation about the programs, we received a good insight into the base as well. One of the most intriguing people I met on the Vernadsky Base, was Dr. Andrei Utevsky. He discovered and described six new species in Antarctica over the past years. This doctor regularly dives in the ice-cold waters to continue his research. Add to the cold the visibility, often only 20 cm (6 inches), and it’s clear this is not a tourist activity.
These researchers’ main challenge is to convince students to come to the base and stay a year. They can help in the existing research or do their own. Being isolated from the mainland and having minimal connectivity, added with a night that will last for eight months, is not the most attractive place for a young student.
The funding of the base is done by the Ukrainian government, while the researchers have to find the funding for the research, the experiments, and the costs related to that. One of the merits of the Vernadsky Research base is her assistance in discovering and documenting the gap in the ozone layer.
Koen Blanquart is a strategy consultant, journalist, and author.
Wanderlust is one of his driving factors, and he shares his travels here on Boarding Today. Koen is also the skipper of SV Bagabonda, a sailing vessel making a slow circumvention of the globe..
Koen recently published a book on how to manage a remote team: The Suitcase Office.