Australia in Antarctica

Comprehension Activities


Two Aussie doctors on a mission: https://antarctica2023.com.au/

Boiling water freezing before it hits the ground:

Videos about life at each of the three Australian Antarctic research stations:

Quiz to see if you’ve got what it takes to work in Antarctica


It’s a desert… it’s the coldest place on earth… and 60 Australians live there all winter long! This is your Squiz Kids Antarctica Shortcut—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett. While we were all on summer holidays, two Aussie doctors skiied in Antarctica for 66 days straight—a 1,400 kilometre journey at temperatures around minus 30 degrees.

And we’re not talking downhill skiing here… while collecting information for scientific research, the doctors pulled all their own supplies on sleds, and grew icicles in their beards while skiing 10-plus hours every day. That got ME thinking… WHO are the people who choose to visit and live in the coldiest, windiest, and driest continent on earth? WHAT work are they doing there? And HOW do they survive in such a harsh place? Today, we’ll be answering those questions.

Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

Bryce, Antarctica isn’t owned by any country, so everyone who lives there is a visitor. Scientists from 29 different countries are living at 70 research stations scattered over Antarctica. Australia has three stations, called Mawson, Davis, and Casey.

Over the summer, there are about 500 people at Australia’s stations, but in the winter, that drops to around 60.

And during the winter, there are a few weeks when the sun literally does not rise; the average temperature is around -20 degrees; and if you throw boiling water into the air, it freezes before it lands. (I’ve put a video of that in your episode notes, by the way)

The thing I love about that video is the person who’s recording it has such a big smile on her face. And she says it’s “fresh”, when it’s -28 degrees!

They’re definitely made of tough stuff. The Australian Antarctic Program has a list of personal qualities they look for when they’re hiring people to work at the stations, and they include:
* being able to cope with isolation”

Meaning not going crazy living in a small place with a small group of people… hello, lockdown

* being good at resolving conflict

– that means fixing problems before they turn into fights…

* flexibility, tolerance and acceptance of other people

Getting along with people who are different from you

and I love this one, Bryce: maintenance of socially accepted standards of hygiene.

Meaning that you need to regularly have a wash and brush your teeth.

Because if you’re living in close quarters with other people, you just can’t be stinky.

Definitely not! What kind of jobs are they doing there?

The main work being done at Australia’s stations is science, so not surprisingly, there are scientists! But there are tradespeople, like plumbers, electricians, mechanics and carpenters; as well as chefs, doctors, and other support people, who work together to keep the stations running and support the scientific research.

Well, the next question is obvious. WHAT are they studying?


One of the big things that scientists in Antarctica are studying is climate change. For example, they’re looking at the loss of ice sheets in Antarctica, and how that contributes to sea level rises. Other scientists are studying plants and animals in Antarctica; and how we can manage fishing in the Southern Ocean, to make sure we don’t take too many fish out of the sea. Some scientists are also focusing on how to protect seabirds, who can be accidentally caught by long line fishing.

Yikes! And there are also people studying the atmosphere, ozone, clouds, all from that special place on the bottom of the globe…

There’s some incredible work happening, some of it pretty complicated… one project is titled “High-latitude gravity wave processes and their parameterization in climate models.” Which I don’t completely understand, but it affects Australia’s climate, so it’s important work.

Okay, so I understand that the scientists have to actually to be in Antarctica to do this work… it’s a unique environment. But HOW do these people live there?

Well, when they’re out doing field research, scientists stay in tents, or basic huts. But they all know how to build an igloo if they get caught outside! The good news is that the research stations themselves are heated and insulated. So when you’re inside, it’s not all that different from being at home. Everyone has a private bedroom, and they share bathrooms. Towards the end of winter, before the sun starts to melt ice, water is limited… so people can only have two minute showers, every second day.

That seems crazy, not having water in a place that contains 90% of all of Earth’s ice!

It does, doesn’t it! Despite all that ice, Antarctica is classified as a desert because so little moisture falls from the sky. All of Australia’s research stations are on the coast, and get about 200mm of snow a year. The inner regions of Antarctica only get about a quarter of that… And if you can’t imagine what 50mm of rain or snow is, the Sahara desert gets twice as much rain each year.

So it’s freezing cold, dry, and incredibly windy. Doesn’t sound like much fun.

I don’t know… the stations have spas, saunas, and climbing walls… as well as theatres for movie night. They also have special buildings where expeditioners can grow vegetables and herbs in winter, when fresh food is pretty scarce.

That’s an important question – how is the food for our Antarctic crew?

Put it this way, when I was doing the research for this shortcut and looking at pictures, I got pretty hungry! There’s a chef at every station, so they’re eating professionally prepared meals. Sometimes the meals have a theme, like an Indian banquet, and people dress up for dinner! But all the food is delivered in the summer, and anything fresh has to be tinned or frozen then… and even then, it’s already been on a ship for a few weeks. The thing expeditioners miss the most is definitely fresh fruit and veggies.

And they can’t just pop out to the shop if they have a craving for something…

There aren’t any shops, that’s for sure! Although all the stations do have a walk-in cupboard they call “Woollies”, where people go and get some supplies.

Hmmm… I think I’ll stick to my Woollies, thanks.

You know, I’d love to VISIT Antarctica in summer – my super tough mum did, and she actually had a quick swim in the almost freezing water—but I’m not sure I could live there over winter. Those people are my heroes.


1. What’s the average temperature in winter on the Antarctic coast?

2. How many stations does Australia operate in Antarctica? Bonus points if you can name one!

3. What’s the main work being done at our stations?

That’s all we have time for today. Thanks for joining us as we explored the who, what, how, where, when, and why of Antarctica.

Now get out there, and have a most excellent day! Over and out.