Winter is in full swing here at McMurdo. Or better yet, Winter is calm and quiet here at McMurdo. The darkness of 24 hour night-time can be unnerving to people, especially with it being early winter and the foreboding amount of time before we actually see the sun again.
There are some people’s sleep patterns that are completely thrown off by the constant darkness, only lit by the twinkling stars and, depending on the time of the month, the moon. The mental conditions are the same as a regular winter anywhere else, really.
It comes with seasonal depression, lack of essential vitamins and minerals from fresh vegetable and lack of sun, and the usual sluggish feeling at night-time that relates to being asleep at night. Take all of these symptoms of a regular winter, heighten them slightly to be consistent throughout the day, and add in T3 syndrome to give yourself an idea of what it can feel like here in the winter if you’re not careful.
You may be asking yourself what T3 syndrome is. Technically it’s called Polar T3 Syndrome since only people in the polar regions are susceptible to it. T3 is a hormone produced in the thyroid that helps maintain almost every aspect of your metabolism, helps control your mood patterns, and helps maintain your energy throughout the day.
When you go from a relatively warm place to somewhere in a polar region (or just in a cold place that’s consistently colder than what you’re used to) your body becomes acclimated to the cold weather by using more calories and raising your internal base temperature a couple of degrees. Vitamin D helps maintain your cognitive functions in relation to your metabolism and temperature.
When you don’t have a readily available source of Vitamin D in the long winter months, our thyroid hoards the T3 hormone to make up for this. At the cost of your cognitive abilities, your body functions normally. When your body develops T3 syndrome, you suddenly forget what you’re doing, where you were going, and randomly stare off into the distance. The latter having been coined the T3 stare, I’ve already caught a few of my coworkers randomly staring at walls for no apparent reason.
Also, some of these effects can be heightened by vitamin and mineral deficiency if you’re not meticulously taking your vitamins. Since we don’t have many fresh fruits or vegetables, your body can get really out of sync if you don’t stay on top of your vitamins.
Along with constant darkness comes the brilliant auroras that I’ve tasked myself in searching out whenever possible. As of late January, after I got to spend time stubbornly sitting at the shorelines in search of the Minke Whale, there was only a few more things I knew I had left to do here in Antarctica.
One of which was to see the Aurora Australis, otherwise known as the Southern Lights, with my own eyes. A mere 8 months before, I was standing at the head of the Brooks Range in the Arctic of Alaska whizzing down the Dalton Highway at night-time. I was with a good friend and coworker of mine, Michelle, and we were following a glowing, greenish-purple, waving streak in the sky that was the Aurora Borealis. The first one of the 2014 winter that we were able to see.
I knew I was going to be in Antarctica a month later but since it’s 24 hour day light in the summer, there was no way I could see an Aurora Australis without finding a winter job here. During the entire summer here, I jumped through unimaginable hoops to put myself in the best possible position to get a winter-over contract.
I got offered a job for a production cook and now here I am. In the early winter darkness that few have ever seen on this planet with streaming rivers of green, purple and red Auroras flowing over my head. #5 on my bucket list is officially checked off, along with an intimidating amount of time before I see another sun-rise.
We also just had our Mid-Winter celebration for the station. Mid-Winter is the only official holiday all the stations in Antarctica actually celebrate so it’s a pretty big deal to our community.
Our whole kitchen staff worked really hard to put out some good food. Also, kudos to Jeremy Landreth for his superb baking. You’re awesome buddy!