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The challenges of keeping scientists fed and happy in Antarctica

Chef Thomas Duconseille works at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station for several months each year.

(CNN) — No place on Earth is colder than East Antarctica. Due to its higher elevation, not even West Antarctica can touch its hostile temperatures.

Princess Elisabeth, a polar research station in the Queen Maud Land region, faces wind speeds of up to 155 mph (249 kph) and temperatures as low as -58°F (-50°C). A flair for comfort food is understandably a requisite skill for any chef working in this environment.

“As people are outside in extremely cold temperatures and harsh conditions, I like to make something nice and heavy for the body, like fondue and raclette. Lots of it,” says chef Thomas Duconseille, who mans this remote Antarctic post for several months each year.

When there’s a group of cold scientists around 3,100 miles from the nearest city and at least 9,900 miles from home, it makes sense that hot cheese goes a long way. If only the rest of Duconseille’s culinary duties were this straightforward — cooking in these conditions comes with unique challenges.

Seven seasons in Antarctica

Princess Elisabeth is anchored to the ridge beside Utsteinen Nunatak, a mountain known as “the outer stone,” in the Sør Rondane mountain range. Outside Duconseille’s office window lie icy granite mountains and bright white lowlands dotted with in-field accommodation units, laboratory containers, and wind turbines that sprout from the snow.

During the summer months of November to February, the glacial, mountainous landscape is bathed in constant light — the sun slips behind the ridge for just three hours a day. During this time, researchers from Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, India and the United States use the surrounding 124 miles of mountains, coastline, glaciers, and the Antarctic Plateau to conduct scientific research and to develop strategies to address climate change. Some stay for a few weeks and others might stay for the season. Duconseille, the resident chef at Princess Elisabeth, is there for the full four months. This year is his seventh season in Antarctica.

Chef Thomas Duconseille works at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station for several months each year.

Courtesy International Polar Foundation

Princess Elisabeth, operated by Brussels-based International Polar Foundation, has been in service since early 2009, making it one of the newer polar research stations. Though it may be young, it’s the world’s first zero-emission polar research station, relying solely on renewable energy in one of the world’s harshest environments. It’s also a…

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