Robbie Mallett

Why is everything in Antarctica so difficult?

Robbie Mallet has narrated this article for you to listen to.

‘Do you like to dig?’ That’s the first question seasoned Antarcticans ask when a scientist tells them he’ll spend winter on the white continent. Digging snow away from doors, windows and shipping containers saps your energy, but they’re not asking about that. Digging is a symbol for all the unglamorous physical tasks that will come to define your life. If you like to dig then you probably also like to wash, to sweep, to whittle and sand, to carry rather than drag, to find the right tool for the job, to fight a losing battle against the weather.

Our drinking water is made from desalinated seawater. An impressive machine that smells like a swimming pool makes perfectly soft water with no taste. We use its bounty sparingly and bubble carbon dioxide through the water to hit the appropriate pH balance. Unfortunately, we are running out of carbon dioxide, and the water is becoming more alkaline. They tell us we’re safe, and that we’ll see damage to the pipes well before the enamel begins to flake from our teeth. We watch the pipes and brush with high fluoride toothpaste. As a climate scientist, I never thought I would be this exposed to a shortage of carbon dioxide.

Skidoos replaced dog sleds in the late 1990s. The biggest beneficiaries of the change are the seals, which are no longer hacked into dog food. But as I scream expletives through a blizzard at my skidoo, yanking its starter cord in vain for the tenth time, I wonder if anything has really changed. I still have to contend with a loud, smelly, temperamental steed, which could seriously hurt me if I push things too far.

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