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Polar Stories

Life: Visiting the South Pole

Modern technology means that, with the right transport, visiting the South Pole can be surprisingly comfortable.

Peter Clarkson talks about a visit to the South Pole by aeroplane and reflects on the difference between the ease of this and the challenges faced by Amundsen and Scott some 60 years previously.

Visiting the South Pole
Polar Stories
Muskeg tractor stuck in a crevasse
Polar Stories

Life: 1960's kitbag

An explanation of the contents of a kitbag containing a typical set of clothing that was issued by the British Antarctic Survey to Antarctic field personnel in 1968.

The common theme with all the clothing is keeping warm and/or protection from the wind. The wind is the chilling and killing factor in Antarctica. The key insulating clothing is made of mostly wool, cotton and silk.

1960's kitbag
Polar Stories
1960's goggles
1960's kitbag
Polar Stories

Life: Modern day kitbag

An explanation of the contents of a kitbag containing a set of typical modern clothing that would be worn by the British Antarctic Survey personnel in Antarctica. The common theme with all the clothing is keeping warm, dry, and protection from the wind.

Modern outer-wear is often coloured orange as this the best colour for being seen at a distance.

This typical set of clothing should keep the wearer comfortably warm and dry in temperatures down to at least minus-30° Celsius.

Modern day kitbag
Polar Stories
Modern day gloves
Modern day goggles
Modern day outer jacket
Polar Stories

Life: Staying in touch - Ways to communicate over long distances

Staying in touch with other expedition members back at the camp or loved ones back at back at home has always been a challenge for Polar Explorers.

During the last 100 years, there have been a number of different ways in which Polar Explorers have tried to communicate over long distances. Originally this was through letter writing, then two-way radios made contact 'real time'. Today in Antarctica the normal mobile telephone networks we are all used to are not accessible.

Instead satellite telephones can be used, which access a network of communications satellites orbiting the Earth. Under normal circumstances this enables global two-way communication from anywhere in Antarctica. This technology was a major advance in communications and is a very valuable asset, particularly in the event of an emergency.

Satellite telephone
Polar Stories
Radio call
Satellite telephone
Polar Stories

Life: Polar tent

The pyramid tent, an ideal shape for use in the polar regions.

The original was designed in the 19th Century and is based on the traditional North American Indian teepee or wigwam.

Peter Clarkson explains the various features of the tent's design and how, once properly erected, it provides good ventilation whilst comprehensively protecting users from the harsh conditions that can occur in the polar regions.

Polar tent
Polar Stories
Getting into a tent
A pyramid tent during a whiteout
Polar Stories

Life: Polar tent

For people working in the field in the polar regions their tent is effectively their home and office. It provides shelter and protection; a place to eat, sleep, work, dry clothes, and can be used as a field hospital.

This video explains how a polar tent is used on a day-to-day basis, protecting people and equipment from cold, wet and 90 miles per hour winds.

Polar tent
Polar Stories
Emerging from a tent after
a blizzard
Drying bedding outside
the tent
Polar Stories

Life: Handheld GPS

The handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) is a pocket-sized instrument that uses the information from a number of satellites to provide a precise position on the Earth's surface.

In the past, an alidade (sighting rule) and a compass were used to make a map on a plane table. Accurate latitude and longitude position fixes on the map were made using a theodolite or sextant and a chronometer.

Handheld GPS
Polar Stories
Handheld GPS
Polar Stories

Life: Anchovy tent

Peter Clarkson explains how in the extremes of Antarctica a simple act of preparing food inside a tent can lead to unforeseen consequences, both for the people involved... and future users of the tent!

Anchovy tent
Polar Stories
A. Stephenson, J.I. Moore and
G.C.L. Bertram sitting outside
Hooper and Abbott in a tent
Life inside a polar tent
Polar Stories

Life: Twin Otter blizzard

Blizzard conditions are regularly experienced when working in polar regions. Putting a tent up in these conditions is particularly challenging.

Peter Clarkson explains how the blizzard affecting two tent-pitchers in a classic film sequence was more than it appeared to be.

Twin Otter blizzard
Polar Stories
Twin Otter plane
Polar Stories

Life: Previous visits

Even in the 1960s the number of people who had visited Antarctica was relatively small. However this did not mean that every visitor was a newcomer.

Peter Clarkson recalls a meeting between a young brash scientist and a modest past-expedition veteran.

Previous visits
Polar Stories
Burton at the South Pole
Polar Stories

Life: Feeling homesick

Peter Clarkson talks about whether he ever felt homesick whilst away in Antarctica and the experience of his colleagues. He also discusses the arrival of post from home and how the contents of a letter from his step-father confirmed he was missing very little in the UK.

Feeling homesick
Polar Stories
Captain Scott and the
Southern Party
Polar Stories

Life: Different seasons

In common with the UK, Antarctica has four distinct seasons, with varying periods of day and night.

However in the highest latitudes in summer the sun never sets, resulting in 24 hour daylight. In winter the sun doesn't rise above the horizon at all resulting in continuous darkness for nearly three months.

Peter Clarkson discusses working in Antarctica in winter and the impact of the darkness on morale and how spirits were maintained ahead of the return of the sun in spring.

Different seasons
Polar Stories
Peter Clarkson standing
on the edge of a crevasse
Polar Stories

Exploration: Working in the Shackleton Range

The Shackleton Range is a range of mountains - about half the size of Wales - located between 80° and 81° South, some 600 miles from the South Pole.

Peter Clarkson remembers a Christmas meeting of field parties in the Shackleton Range and explains how rare it is for people to be there.

Working in the Shackleton Range
Polar Stories
Peter Clarkson on the
Shackleton Mountain range
Polar Stories

Exploration: Becoming a polar scientist

Peter Clarkson outlines his career as a polar scientist. This begins with a boyhood interest in the 1957-58 Trans-Antarctic Expedition, before studying Geology at Durham University and later securing a job with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

Peter goes on to explain his first experiences of the Antarctic and his work in the Shackleton Range, before his return to the UK to write up his work. Peter stayed with BAS for 22 years, before moving to the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) as the Executive Secretary of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. During this time he was also invited to become a lecturer on a tour ship to the Antarctic.

Becoming a polar scientist
Polar Stories

After retiring, Peter carried out occasional Antarctic lecture tours and co-wrote a book on the history of the Scientific Committee. Peter now supports the SPRI with its 'Education and Outreach Programme' and still hopes to make occasional trips back to Antarctica.

Peter Clarkson gathering
rock samples
Polar Stories

Survival: Mending a broken leg

Peter Clarkson outlines how a colleague broke his leg during a field season in the Shackleton Range in Antarctica.

Peter explains how an accident like this is dealt with in the field, using a mixture of first aid lessons learned back at base the previous winter, and long-distance professional advice from a doctor via radio. The video also illustrates how being properly equipped, together with a degree of improvisation, can be life saving in the Antarctic environment.

Mending a broken leg
Polar Stories
Setting a broken leg in plaster
Showing how to apply Plaster of
Paris splints and bandages
Polar Stories

Survival: Toothache

Minor accidents and injuries in field work are quite common, but working in Antarctica can result in additional complications and sometimes unexpected solutions.

Peter Clarkson explains how an accident led months later to debilitating toothache; and how an improvised tooth extraction was fortunately avoided.

Toothache
Polar Stories
Life inside a polar tent
Polar Stories
Filming at SPRI