What we wear
How can you survive in the coldest place in the world?
Well, the obvious reply is because we are all Super Heroes! But the truth is that the base is warm and cosy, and we work inside in T-shirts and jeans mostly. Outside, we have modern clothing (layer after layer after layer) which is light and comfortable. What we do realise is that working in the time of Shackleton and Scott must have been very hard, with poor equipment, poor food and no vehicles.
Physically it is not so bad!
What kind of protection do you wear on your face to stop frostbite?
If you keep your back to the wind you can keep your face relatively warm. If you have to face into the wind you need a balaclava that covers essentially all your face, including the ears and if possible the nose. You will need snow goggles over your eyes to protect you from "snow blindness" and also for the effects of the damaging Ultra-Violet radiation that you get now that the ozone layer has thinned over the Antarctic in the spring and early summer. Then above all, you will have a hooded wind proof jacket that stops the cold air getting to the back of your neck.
How many layers of clothes do you wear?
At Halley, in summer, on a windless day, when it's sunny......! a T shirt and shorts (plus factor 50 sun block).
In winter, in the dark, in a blizzard, about seven layers over the body (to keep our "core temperature" warm) about three or four over arms and legs. Two socks and Mukluk boots on feet, two pairs of gloves..........Oh, and a woolly hat.
What type of clothes do you need to wear to keep warm and safe?
At work here we have a very large clothing store and before you go away you get fitted with your clothing. We have large boots with felt inside to keep your feet warm and they are very good. Usually when you are working you do not need to wear a lot of clothes but if you are not working and keeping warm you might wear lots and then it becomes difficult to move, like the Michelin Man.
Did you get used to the conditions?
No! Cold is still cold, you do not acclimatise. You DO get more used to getting your clothing right. What I find most strange is that when I return to the UK, from -5°C in Antarctica (sunny all day, blue skies, sometimes cloudy) to +5°C UK (drizzle and dark) the UK feels so COLD. This is because our clothing in Antarctica is very clean (no mud or muck) and very DRY. This makes it very good at insulating. In the UK, your cloths get damp, and poor at insulation. So, do not expect to see returning Antarctic scientists in T-shirts in January, they will be just as wrapped up against the cold as you.
What is your clothing made of?
Clothing is now most often made of artificial fibres, although natural silk and cotton are still useful for under-gloves, and wool for a favourite woolly hat!
The clothing is designed to be worn in layers, with a wicking layer (to remove perspiration), then a thermal layer (to keep warm) then a wind proof layer (to stop wind burrowing into the thermal layer, and nicking all the warmth.)
How much of each layer depends on the weather and the work you will be doing. For standing around in the wind - LOTS of thermal + wind proofs ("windies" we call them). For digging up boxes out of the snow - wicking and wind proofs. For watching stars on a winter night with no wind - just thermals.....it takes a while to learn just what to wear. At first you put on EVERYTHING, and simply overheat!