The “Vernadsky” station celebrates 25 years | Polarjournal
The “Vernadsky Station” is located on Galíndez Island, part of the Argentine Islands, in the Wilhelm Archipelago, off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. (Photo: Michael Wenger)

On February 6, 2021, the only Ukrainian Antarctic station, the “Vernadsky Research Base”, celebrated 25 years since its establishment. In 1996, Ukrainian polar explorers raised their flag over the former British “Faraday Station” for the first time. The Ukrainians bought the station symbolically for one pound sterling. The holiday was celebrated even at the “state level” – President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree to celebrate the anniversary of its founding.

The station can accommodate a maximum of 24 people as summer staff and an average of 12 overwinterers. Here, seismic shocks, the thickness of the ozone layer and meteorological parameters are measured. (Photo: Michael Wenger)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, all polar stations were handed over to Russia. The request of Ukraine to transfer one of the five operating Antarctic stations to the Ukraine in the framework of the distribution of assets of the former USSR, Moscow refused. Thus, Ukraine no longer had access to these research facilities. However, Ukraine had a solid scientific basis, scientists and the potential to continue research. In view of this fact, there was only one cooperation for Ukraine with another nation.

On November 21, 1994, the International Foundation “Vidrodzhennia” had allocated 12,000 US dollars for the project “Ukraine returns to Antarctica”. The first Ukrainian specialists arrived at the English “Faraday Station” on December 17, 1994 and stayed until February 15, 1995.

On July 20, 1995, the Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Kingdom, Sergiy Komisarenko and the British Foreign Secretary David Davis exchanged diplomatic notes in London on the transfer of the “Faraday Antarctic Station” to Ukraine. The Director of the Centre, Peter Gozhyk, and the Head of the British Antarctic Service, Ronald B. Heywood, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to this effect on this day.

On February 6, 1996 at the “Faraday Station” the British flag was solemnly retired and the state flag of Ukraine was hoisted for the first time. This symbolized the final stage of transferring the station and renaming it the Ukrainian Antarctic Station “Akademik Vernadsky”. (Photo: Vernadsky Research Base)

Rothera station made Faraday station obsolete

The scientific base in the Argentine Islands was established during the British Graham Land Expedition in 1934-1937. In 1947, the British decided to build a full-scale weather station based on the first building on Winter Island. When the expedition arrived, an unpleasant surprise awaited them: the first building was swept away by a huge wave, leaving only fragments. The first British winterers built a house from the materials available. The station was called “Base F” and could accommodate 4-6 people.

Base F” was built from the remains of the hut destroyed by a tidal wave. (Photo: Robert Moss)

In 1954, a new building was erected on the neighbouring island of Galindez, where up to 10 people could spend the winter. The last time it was rebuilt was in 1980 – a two-story building was added to the old one-story building. In 1977, “Base F” was renamed “Faraday Station.”

In 1996, 300 kilometres south of the “Faraday Station”, the more modern “Rothera” station was opened with an airport and a capacity for 100 specialists. It became unprofitable for Britain to maintain two stations at the same time and closure with the necessary dismantling was quite expensive. So the takeover of the Ukrainians came just at the right time.

Wordie House stands on a small, flat peninsula on Winter Island, part of the Argentine Islands. A narrow channel separates Winter Island from Galindez Island, where the “Vernadsky Station” is located. (Photo: Michael Wenger)

Research at the Vernadsky Research Base

At the Vernadsky Research Base there is a meteorological and geographical observatory. The complex is built so that offices and bedrooms are in the same building. According to most researchers, it’s convenient because you can enter the office in slippers and not have to go out into the polar cold.

Also on the island is Wordie House, a wooden hut that is a model of the early British scientific base.

Another polar relic of the station is the British Dobson spectrophotometer, a device for measuring ozone. Thanks to him, the ozone hole over Antarctica was first discovered in the 1980s.

The Antarctic ozone hole was discovered in 1985 by BAS scientists Joe Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jon Shanklin. (Photo: BAS)

Women were not allowed in the ward for 20 years

Another fact that few knew about: for a long time, female scientists were not included in an expedition team due to difficult weather conditions. From 1998 and until March 2019, no women worked at the “Vernadsky Research Base”.

This was explained by the fact that it was hard physical work. In winter the station is covered with snow and there are freezing winds and tunnels have to be dug in the snow to get to the buildings. There was no official ban, but it was thought that wintering in polar conditions was too difficult for women. In addition, women were seen as adding stress to the male team. The presence of women could lead to conflicts.

Anna Soina is the first woman in 20 years to join the research team at Vernadsky Station. (Photo: Yevhennii Prokopchuk)

However, the situation changed at the end of March 2019. For the first time in 20 years, polar explorers were included in the team of the 24th Antarctic expedition on the basis of an open competition without gender restrictions. Thanks to this, two women took part in the expedition. Among them is Anna Soina from Kharkiv. She is a geophysicist and acted as an ozone meter at the station.

Pub at the end of the world

Yeah, I’m not kidding. In fact, there’s a pub at the “Vernadsky Research Base” that has even been called “the most beautiful bar in Antarctica,” according to experts Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley in the book Straight Up: The Insider’s Guide to the World’s Most Interesting Bars and Drinking Experiences.

“If you want to go to the world’s most remote bar, let it be the tiny “Faraday Bar” at “Vernadsky Station” on the Antarctic Peninsula. In the British-built seven-seater, you can enjoy moonshine, wine and beer for about three dollars,” the authors describe the pub.

The Faraday Bar (left) on Vernadsky Station is a relic of days gone by and is considered the ‘most beautiful bar in Antarctica’. The rest of the lounge area exudes a certain charm. (Photo: Michael Wenger

The history of this bar is interesting. It was built by the British forty years ago. Pubs are a part of British culture, but it didn’t come off as planned.

One day two carpenters came to the station to build offices. They brought a lot of wood and built only one pub all year, using most of the supplies for it. The offices for scientists, on the other hand, were not completed. After a visit to the station by government officials, they were released.

The carpenters put their souls into building the “Faraday Station” pub. The interior is decorated with rustic wooden beams and old paintings of famous Antarctic explorers above the seats. A dartboard hangs on the wall. There’s a pool table, snowshoes hanging over the bar.

Always on Saturdays the polar explorers rested and arranged a festive dinner.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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