Antarctica: Italian science celebrates christmas 15,000 km from home


Weather and climate probes and gourmet menus to celebrate the holidays

The PNRA, the National Research Program in Antarctica, funded by the Ministry of University and Research (MUR) managed by ENEA for logistics and CNR for scientific planning and coordination, will continue its activities during the end-of-year holidays. This year, about 140 researchers and technicians will spend Christmas over 15,000 km from home at the Mario Zucchelli (MZS), Concordia and Little Dome C bases, surrounded by the South Pole ice.

Although the 2021-2022 expedition is taking place in full southern summer (seasons are reversed south of the equator), the activities of permanent observatories like the seismic, meteorology, physics of atmosphere and astronomy ones will take place  at temperatures well below zero.

On December 25th there will be the launch of the ENEA Meteo-Climatological Observatory probe balloon , which takes place simultaneously all over the world at the same synoptic times, 00.00 and 12.00 local time, with the objective of providing a contribution to understanding climate change by studying atmospheric dynamics over the Antarctic continent and its variations on different time scales.

The launch, performed daily, takes on a special significance on New Year's Eve. As usual, it will be carried out in the square opposite the Mario Zucchelli station in the presence of the entire staff. An auspicious ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the new year and the turning point of the summer campaign,  that in these days exceeds half of the period of stay, except for the 13 winter-overs who will remain in complete isolation throughout the austral winter at the Concordia base, to continue their scientific and logistical activities.

At MZS, Christmas will also be celebrated thanks to the creativity and inventiveness of exceptional chefs. Francesco Lubelli, with the collaboration of Vito Mollica and Emanuele Puzo, will create a surprise menu inspired by Italian tradition for the Christmas Eve dinner. Among the dishes, traditional fried foods, canapés, a double taste of first and second courses of meat and fish to satisfy every palate. All accompanied by wine, panettone and nougat.

Luca Ficara and Marco Smerilli at Concordia, the Italian-French base at over 3,000 meters on the Antarctic plateau, propose a more international menu. Their international staff requires to have a menu covering different tastes and cuisines. If at Mario Zucchelli’s the work of the chefs is made more burdensome by the fact that the food is stored in a cave in the ice accessible only by helicopter, in Concordia, as well as in the nearby Little Dome C base camp, some preparations are made more difficult by the even less availability of fresh food. In addition, since water boils at 85 °, the leavening process needs alternative methods due to the extreme environmental conditions,  like low pressure, low air humidity and altitude.

The distance from families will in any case be shortened thanks to technological advances in satellite connections, which make it increasingly easy to make calls and video calls to loved ones.

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