Antarctic researchers mark winter solstice with icy plunge

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SYDNEY, June 21, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Scientists based in Antarctica welcomed
the winter solstice by plunging into icy waters Thursday as part of a “mad
tradition” heralding the return of brighter days after weeks of darkness.

In temperatures of -22 degrees Celsius (-7.6 degrees Fahrenheit), staff at
Australia’s Casey research station marked midwinter’s day by cutting a small
pool in the thick ice before stripping off and jumping in.

Casey station leader Rebecca Jeffcoat said midwinter day — the shortest
of the year — was the most anticipated occasion on the Antarctic calendar
and has been celebrated from the time of the early explorers.

“Swimming in Antarctica’s below freezing waters is something of a mad
tradition, but our hardy expeditioners look forward to it, with 21 of the 26
people on station brave enough to take an icy dip this year,” she said.

“Midwinter day is really important in Antarctica because it marks the
halfway point of our year here on the ice and it means the sun will spend
slightly longer in the sky each day.”

Celebrations took place at all three of Australia’s Antarctic research
stations and its sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island base, with feasting, an
exchange of handmade gifts, and messages from home read out.

Jeffcoat, who is experiencing her first Antarctic winter, said the
continent was extraordinary.

“The environment is spectacular and harsh, and we experience the most
incredible range of conditions, from below freezing blizzards to auroras, or
the midwinter twilight as the sun skims the horizon,” she said.

“It is challenging being so far from family and friends, but we have built
a really close knit community of friends on station that we’ll likely have
for the rest of our lives as we’ve shared this great experience together.”

Australia currently has 75 researchers living and working on the frozen
continent as part of the Australian Antarctic Program, with most of them on
12-month postings.

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