Concordia Station

Concordia Research Station, which opened in 2005, is a research facility that was built 3,233 m above sea level at a location called Dome C on the Antarctic Plateau, Antarctica. It is located 1,100 km inland from the French research station at Dumont D'Urville, 1,100 kilometres inland from Australia's Casey Station and 1,200 kilometres inland from the Italian Zucchelli Station at Terra Nova Bay. Russia's Vostok Station is 560 kilometres away. The Geographic South Pole is 1670 kilometres away. The facility is also located within Australia's claim on Antarctica, the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Concordia Station is the third permanent, all-year research station on the Antarctic Plateau besides Vostok Station (Russian) and the Amundsen-Scott Station (U.S.) at the Geographic South Pole. It is jointly operated by scientists from France and Italy.

History

In 1992, France decided to build a new station on the Antarctic Plateau. The program was later joined by Italy. In 1996, a French-Italian team established a summer camp at Dome C. The two main objectives of the camp were the provision of logistical support for the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) and the construction of a permanent research station. The new all-year facility, Concordia Station, became operational in 2005. The first winterover began with a staff of 13 in February 2005.

Access

Most of the cargo is moved to Dome C by traverse from Dumont d'Urville Station, covering 1,200 km in 7 to 12 days depending on weather conditions. Station personnel and light cargo arrive by air, using Twin Otter aircraft from DDU or Mario Zucchelli Station at 1200 km.

Environment

Dome C is one of the coldest places on Earth. Temperatures hardly rise above −25°C in summer and can fall below −80°C in winter with a recent record –84.6°C in 2010. The annual average air temperature is −54.5°C. Humidity is low and it is also very dry, with very little precipitation throughout the year.

Dome C does not experience the katabatic winds typical for the coastal regions of Antarctica because of its elevated location and its relative distance from the edges of the Antarctic Plateau. Typical wind speed in winter is 2.8 m/s.

Dome C is situated on top of the Antarctic Plateau, the world's largest desert. No animals or plants live at a distance of more than a few tens of kilometers from the Southern Ocean. However, skuas have been spotted while overflying the station, 1,200 km away from their nearest food sources. It is believed that these birds have learned to cross the continent instead of circumnavigating it.

Glaciology

In the 1970s, Dome C was the site of ice core drilling by field teams of several nations. In the 1990s, Dome C was chosen for deep ice core drilling by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA). Drilling at Dome C began in 1996 and was completed on December 21, 2004, reaching a drilling depth of 3270.2 m, 5 m above bedrock. The age of the oldest recovered ice is estimated to be ca. 900,000 years.

Astronomy

Concordia Station has been identified as a suitable location for extremely accurate astronomical observations. The transparency of the Antarctic atmosphere permits the observation of stars even when the sun is at an elevation angle of 38°. Other advantages include the very low infrared sky emission, the high percentage of cloud-free time and the low aerosol and dust content of the atmosphere.

Writing in the Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Karim Agabi et al. discuss the suitability of the site for astronomy in terms of the seeing. Their key finding:

This is significantly worse than most major observatory sites, but similar to other observatories in Antarctica. However, Lawrence et al. consider other features of the site and conclude that "Dome C is the best ground-based site to develop a new astronomical observatory". Note however that this was written before whole-atmospheric seeing measurements had been made at Dome C.

The experiments to measure the astronomical conditions at the site were controlled by a computer system that had to supervise the generation of its own electricity using a jet-fuel powered stirling engine. The computer, running Linux, communicated with the outside world using an Iridium phone.

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