Cambridgeshire

Scientist spends 17th Christmas in the Antarctic

Teal Riley Image copyright Teal Riley

A 40-year-old tin of bacon and vacuum-packed leftovers are among the treats a scientist has enjoyed for Christmas dinner while spending 17 festive seasons in a tent in the Antarctic.

Geologist Dr Teal Riley will spend the season under canvas with a stranger.

He stays at the British Antarctic Survey's base - more than 6,200 miles (10,000km) from his home - for months.

He said it made him realise how special Christmas is when he does get to spend it with his family.

About 150 staff work at BAS's Rothera research station at this time each year, for what is the Antarctic summer.

Dr Riley, 49, has worked for the Cambridge-based organisation for 25 years and for most of those he has missed Christmas at home with his partner and their son.

Image copyright Teal Riley
Image caption The tiny pyramid tents are made of the same tightly woven cotton used by Scott's Antarctic expeditions in the early 20th Century
Image copyright Teal Riley
Image caption He can be dropped off up to five hours' flying time away from the main base

Instead he spends it in a small tent in temperatures up to -20C (-4F) with a polar guide - a trained mountaineer he will have met just days beforehand.

"You do end up feeding off each other's mood - and you know when to shut up," he said.

Dr Riley flew out in mid-December and expects to be there for up to three months.

Image copyright Teal Riley
Image caption Polar guide Malcolm Airey (l) was Dr Riley's Christmas tent mate in 2014
Image copyright Teal Riley
Image caption One year they tucked in to a lovely tin of 40-year-old bacon (l) they found in an old hut

Christmas Day is much like any other and is spent in the field contributing to BAS's studies into climate change.

He is able to contact his family via email from a satellite phone but his priority remains getting on with the research.

Image copyright British Antarctic Survey
Image caption Fieldwork teams went everywhere by dog sleds until 1994
Image copyright British Antarctic Survey
Image caption Most travel now takes place on snow mobiles

"If you have good weather, you work," he said.

Although one Christmas he spent three days stuck in the tent because of storms.

"That can be quite terrifying," he said.

Image copyright Teal Riley
Image caption Temperatures in the field can reach up to -20C

However, they try to make extra time for dinner when the working day is done.

"Last season we had leftover chicken which had been vacuum-packed several months before.

"One year we came across an old dog sled depot used in the 1960s or 70s and found some tins of bacon - one of them was quite reasonable, so we had that."

Dr Teal added: "I'm not a Grinch, so it really does make Christmas feel much more special when I can actually be at home with my family."

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