The Ukrainian Antarctic research station named after the scientist Volodymyr Vernadsky is a small corner of Ukraine settled down among icebergs. Apart from regular research, the polar explorers cook borshch, eat varenyky, sing Ukrainian songs, and even vote in elections. From the Antarctic!
The station itself is a complete system with its own infrastructure, which ensures the work of 12 winterers all year-round. In addition, they have a local ‘hospital’, medical laboratory, an emergency refuge base with food supplies. There is even a tiny chapel at the station.
The station started its operation under the Ukrainian flag in 1996. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was refused to inherit any of the 5 existing stations. Great Britain decided to transfer its Faraday station to one of the countries that didn’t have any. So on February 6, 1996, the blue-yellow Ukrainian flag rose above it. The base received its current name after Volodymyr Vernadsky — Ukrainian mineralogist, geochemist, founder and the first president of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
Science & research
Ukraine is one of the 30 states that own all-year-round stations in Antarctica, so Ukrainian scientists join international research of a global scale. In addition, the Ukrainian Antarctic research station has the longest continual meteorological observations in Antarctica — since 1947 when the station was British. Besides, the scientists also conduct biological, geophysical, geological, chemical and other types of research. The results allow developing trends and prognoses for the processes on the planet.
Noosphere, a Ukrainian scientific icebreaker, started its first expedition from Odesa in Ukraine to Antarctica on January 28, 2022. The year before, Ukraine acquired the flagship of the British scientific navy RRS James Clark Ross. When the Ukrainian flag was raised on the ship, it received a new — quite symbolic — name. ‘Noosphere’ (or ‘noosfera’) is a term from the works of Volodymyr Vernadsky.
The vessel’s length is around 99 meters. Its width is almost 19 meters, gross tonnage – 5732 tons. Noosphere has labs and winch systems that allow studying the seabed at a depth of 8 km.
Its scientific program includes several types of research that could provide important insights for the whole planet — understand how global warming affects the ocean, explore the local biodiversity and make a census of species, measure the level of pollution in Antarctica, find out more about the geology and climate of Antarctica, including decreasing ice coverage.
Before COVID times, the Ukrainian Antarctic research station, with its fascinating coastal areas such as Petermann Island and Lemaire Channel, attracted up to 4 thousand tourists during the short Antarctic summer. Here the unique Faraday bar — the southernmost bar on the planet is located! There is even a post office near the station where visitors may send postcards from Antarctica. Unfortunately, in 2020-2021, there are strict limitations to the tourists attending the station, which hopefully will be cancelled in 2022 depending on the pandemic situation.
Over ten thousand birds settle down on different islands within a radius of 20 km from the station. Usually, when it is winter in Antarctica, the gentoo penguins (penguins with a nice red beak) living around the station Academic Vernadsky move further north. This is because the water in the area of Galindez island is frozen, and penguins need to search for open water to have access to food. But due to the climate changes, winters are getting warmer. As a result, unfrozen water areas now can be found near the station throughout the Antarctic winter, so penguins stay close.
Memories from Ukraine
In 2022, Ukrainian architecture and interior design studio balbek bureau designed an art installation ‘Home. Memories’ for the Vernadsky Research Base. The team reimagined the appearance and function of the fuel tank — one of the most popular photo spots for visiting tourists at the station.
The installation was inspired by a typical Ukrainian house — warm, full of comfort and cosiness. Researchers associate it with home, and tourists can get acquainted with Ukraine through a visual image. They’ll be able to take a walk inside the house and explore more about Ukraine with the help of information boards and the collection of object that symbolize various sides of Ukraine.
Noosphere, which set off for Antarctica with the installation onboard, is expected to arrive there in March 2022.
- Ukrainians are over 200 years in Antarctica. One of the first discoverers of the sixth continent were from an expedition under the leadership of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen. His deputy was Ukrainian — Ivan Zavadovsky.
- In 2019, all participants of the 24th Ukrainian Antarctic expedition comprising 12 Ukrainians took part in the presidential elections in Ukraine on the premises of the famous Faraday Bar.
- On February 6, 2021, Google congratulated the Vernadsky Research Base with a Google Doodle.
- The Ukrainian Antarctic expedition will brew their own beer. In 2021, a Ukrainian grocery chain provided brewing equipment and ingredients for making beer at the Vernadsky station. Some really authentic beverages are to come at the local bar soon.
- To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Vernadsky station, Ukrainian musician Postman created a music video for his song ‘Antarktyda’ (Antarctica), showing the surroundings of the station, people who work there, their daily routines, and, of course, penguins!
But trust us, the most unexpected Ukraine you can explore is right there at our Antarctic research station. See the virtual tour!
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Text by Sabina Popova & National Antarctic Scientific Center