Station established: 1957
Location: East Ongul Island, Antarctica
Staff: 29 in winter, 71 in summer
There are warmer places to spend the summer than atop a glacier in Antarctica. But for Shigeru Aoki, travelling to the world’s southernmost continent is always an exciting prospect. As the head of the 61st Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition, the Hokkaido University oceanography associate professor leads a team that is spending four months at the bottom of the Earth monitoring changes in the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.
In late November, Aoki left Japan with a crew of geologists, meteorologists, marine biologists, civil engineers, doctors, chefs and mountaineering guides. They flew from Tokyo to Australia’s west coast where they boarded the Japanese icebreaker Shirase, along with 1,000 tonnes of food, supplies, snow vehicles and diesel fuel. “I’m hoping for scientific results on a par with past epoch-making discoveries,” says Aoki. Japan established Syowa Station back in 1957 but this crew’s first stop is Totten glacier, in eastern Antarctica, where they will use unmanned submersibles and other hi-tech equipment to find out whether warmer seas are thawing polar ice at a faster rate. But it’s not all work and no play: Syowa Station has a gym, bathhouse and bar with a billiards table and karaoke machine. The chefs have planned lavish meals for New Year’s Day and birthdays. Aoki, an amateur saxophonist, hopes that there will be time to practise. “There might even be enough musicians for a performance.”
Summer expedition leader
Aoki is in charge of the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition summer team. The 53-year-old went on his first Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition in 1997 and has travelled there every other year. He has packed his Roland Aerophone digital instrument and is keen to take to the stage with it during his stay.