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  • Snow groomers in front of Neumayer Station III in Antarctica.

    Crossing The Antarctis On a Snow Groomer

    Neumayer Station III is an ultra-modern German research institute in Antarctica. We are spending a day with Fred, a snow groomer driver. He tells us about an expedition in the vast ice desert, explains what whiteouts are and reveals how to make a penguin jealous.

  • Where Even Sledge Dogs Are Getting Cold Feet

    Snow groomer from the front: snow groomers are used at the research station for transport, expeditions and to prevent the station from getting snowed in. Go, go, go! The snow groomer acts as a tractor on expeditions.

    I’m Fred and, since I’m a snow groomer driver, I probably have the southernmost and coldest workplace in the world. But only when I get out, as it’s so nice and warm in the driver’s cab of my snow groomer that I could just wear trousers and a T-shirt if I wanted to. And in place of frost on my lips there’s a smile... and the lyrics to “Shake It Off”. The Taylor Swift song is playing on my phone, and my thumbs are gleefully drumming to the beat on the steering wheel.

    Yes, it’s cosy and warm in my tracked vehicle. Hardly anything about this scenario would suggest I’m currently driving in convoy through a snowstorm in the Antarctic. As I crawl on at 10 km/h (around 6 mph), thousands of teeny tiny snowflakes thrash the vehicle at speeds of 80 km/h (roughly 50 mph). It’s so cold outside that even the sledge dogs are getting cold feet.

  • On The Way To Neumayer Station III

    Our convoy consists of three tractors, which tow several huge sledges with shipping container homes, provisions and a tank, as petrol stations and supermarkets are sadly pretty rare in the Antarctic. We were on a scientific expedition for just under two weeks.

    Our sea ice physicist has gathered data to evaluate the impact of climate change on the Antarctic. One of the ways she can determine this is by tracking the thickness of the sea ice over time.

    Now we’re on the way back to Neumayer Station III. The German research facility has been run by the Alfred Wegener Institute for more than 10 years and is named after geophysicist Georg von Neumayer. It would be good if we got there soon, as morale and supplies are low.

    A snow groomer takes fuel from the boat landing station to the research station. The snow groomers transport fuel to the research station, among other things.
  • Whiteout: When All You Can See Is White

    The annual supply of provisions arrives at Neumayer Station. Snow groomers pull the goods on large sledges from the boat landing station at the ice edge to the research station. The provisions have arrived safe and sound, despite adverse weather conditions.

    I’m driving based on information from the navigation device. My view from the cabin is little help. I can’t see the ground, the sky... I can’t see a thing. Just white. No horizon. No contrast. The technical term for this is a ‘whiteout’. I dream of a hot shower and adjust my baseball cap. Temperatures can reach -40 °C at the South Pole. Thankfully I have a high-performance heater by Webasto on board.

    The Thermo Top Pro 150 has a heating capacity of 15 kilowatts and can very efficiently heat the engine to an operating temperature of 90 to 100 °C within an hour so that the engine can start – even when it’s -40 °C outside. While it does that, the Thermo Top Pro 150 also heats the driver’s cab, for which I am extremely grateful.

    My heating is so reliable that I trust it with my life out here. On the way there, we drove past a colony of around 30,000 emperor penguins. They all gave me funny looks. They were probably jealous of my heating.

  • Neumayer Station III's Survival Strategy

    It then finally emerges in a haze in the snowpocalypse: Neumayer Station III. The pride of the German drive for research. When the weather is good, it reminds me of a ship that has several stilts in place of a hull.

    The stilts are part of the station’s survival strategy: to prevent Neumayer III from getting snowed in and sinking in the snow, it keeps climbing on new snow with its hydraulic stilts, so it’s always on top. The blue, white and orange colour scheme is typical of German research vessels. In some ways, the station could actually be compared with a ship. It floats on the perpetual ice and travels around 157 m a year.

    Of its 4,864 m2 floor space, 2,000 m2 is heated and fitted with mod cons, including a gym, swimming pool, ping pong table, table football, yoga facilities and a canteen serving dishes such as Zurich-style veal with a creamy mushroom sauce. And there are even showers with hot water! Amazing! Let’s get going. I can’t wait to be back! I play “Sweet Home Alabama” on my phone, drum my thumbs to the beat on the steering wheel and put the pedal to the metal

    Supporting the stilts: the maintenance team supports the stilts using snow blowers and snow groomers. The snow around each of the stilt legs holding up the research station is dug out. The legs are then retracted one by one and supported with new snow.
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