Friday, September 20, 2013

A day in Antarctica

Next weekend my players will spend a day in Antarctica. They will land at McMurdo station, prep their gear, fly to Amundsen–Scott station (geographic south pole) and from there they will be "smuggled" as a science crew to get close enough to their target. A strange complex in the mountains and their inhabitants, a group of rogue mercenaries up to something. After the drop off it's all on foot and snow mobiles to the merc complex. Sneak, spy and even infiltrate are their orders.

Quite a lot for a day's work you'd think. Well think again because a day in Antarctica lasts a whole six months. That's right. Although the duration may vary the further north you go, at true south sun is coming up tomorrow September 21 at 5:26 am and ain't setting for a whole six months. That gives our brave adventurers quite some time to finish their mission. But let's not let them get too confident because when the sun sets night will last a whole six months too, and not even the Energizer bunny is going to keep their NVGs going that long!

Sunrise marks the beginning of spring, the arrival of warmer days and supply airplanes. Warmer is a relative term there, it means going from an average high of -55°C (-68°F) in winter to -26°C (-14°F) in summer. It also literally means the appearance of the sun over the horizon. something that has been missing for the last six months.

No wonder "Here comes the sun" by the Beatles has been played at least once to welcome the sunrise and nowhere is the song's lyrics more fitting after six months of no sun.

Probably unaware to many is the Sun's role in bone structure and mood swings of human beings. Vitamin D is produced in the skin. Without it the body suffers. It is strongly related with bone issues like osteoporosis, rickets (bone softening) in children and osteomalacia. "Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risks of deadly cancers, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes mellitus." (

Lack of sunlight is also related to depression as serotonin is dependent on sunlight as well. Without it mood swings and even suicidal tendencies could emerge. Men respond differently to serotonin deficiency than women " became impulsive but not necessarily depressed. Women, on the other hand, experienced a marked drop in mood and became more cautious, an emotional response commonly associated with depression." (

So let's start piecing things together. Antarctica is a wonderful place where firearms tend to malfunction, get stuck, become brittle, can't be fired as quickly in a stressful situation, food and water freezes, your next step on the snow could be your last, you might find yourself stranded in a pancake of snow as flat as the eye can see and on top of that the lack of sunlight creates painful bone diseases and lack of brain chemicals that lead to mood swings. Isn't this a lovely setting??

Of course not all Antarctica is all day for six months and then all night for another six months. The amount of light is shown on the following diagram. As you can see light gradually diminishes and then increases over a period of months, not hours.

At McMurdo station the light fluctuation is as follows:

Even though there is more fluctuation in sunlight during the day it never really becomes daylight during winter, specially the coldest months of June and July. It also never quite gets dark during summer. Posing another threat to the party: visual contact.

Moving undetected at night is kinda hard if night doesn't come, and waiting for night fall is quite a long wait. Are you getting stressed already? Wait until your character's serotonin levels begin to drop. Mood swings with heavily armed men and women. What a great mix!!!

Operating in days that have day and night periods during the day pose a serious threat of exposure and extreme cold as those days occur in the coldest most bitter months of the year.

Daylight operations are the only viable alternative as they fall within the warmest months of the year and enjoy more transportation in and out of the area. Although there is a road, the McMurdo South Pole Highway, airplanes are the preferred means of transportation in and out.

Daylight months also provide a good cover story for the team's presence in the area. As a cover up science team their movement will become less suspicious. In the summer the south pole Amundsen-Scott Station population peaks at 200, making their presence and activities less notorious to watching eyes.

We'll see how they fare. The have a few months to finish their task. Their last chance of a ride home is the last C-130 leaving for McMurdo just before sunset in March. If they miss it they'll have to join the winter-over and enjoy the movies. I hear the first played just after sunset is The Thing followed by The Shining. No kidding, that's what they do over there. Of course a whole six months of darkness presents so many great opportunities for adventure so who would want to miss that?

Amundsen-Scott Station Temperature Table

The following table shows the average and record temperatures per month as well as the amount of sunlight at the south pole station.

Climate data for the South Pole
Record high °C (°F)−14
Average high °C (°F)−25.9
Average low °C (°F)−29.4
Record low °C (°F)−41
Mean monthly sunshine hours55848021700000604346005892,938
Source #1: Weatherbase [11]
Source #2: Cool Antarctica [12]

Image sources

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