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‘Bracing minus 2C’: expeditioners in Antarctica mark winter solstice 2021 with icy polar plunge

Year’s shortest day and longest night celebrated in period when sun only appears for two and a half hours a day

Antarctic-based Australian expeditioners have taken a sub-zero polar plunge to mark the winter solstice, keeping an icy tradition alive.

Each year expeditioners at Australia’s three research stations in Antarctica and on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island celebrate the year’s shortest day and longest night by taking a dip in sea ice or the ocean.

The midwinter custom is a significant milestone for expeditioners, signifying “hump day” during the long and dark winter for the 86 souls spread across the stations.

Casey station’s leader, Kyle Williams, said his team had created a 1.5 sq m pool by cutting through the 80cm thick sea ice with chainsaws and crowbars.

“The water temperature proved to be a bracing minus 2C, and the air temperature of minus 9C really got us moving,” he said after the event, held before Monday’s winter solstice.

Williams said his 27-person crew was not getting much vitamin D, with the sun only rising above the horizon for two and a half hours a day.

Further south at the Mawson and Davis research stations, expeditioners have not seen a sunrise for several weeks and are living in constant twilight or darkness.

Aside from the medically supervised swims, formal dinners will also be held as part of the next phase of festivities.

Kim Ellis, director of the Australian Antarctic Division, said the Covid-19 pandemic had resulted in dramatic program changes since the last midwinter celebrations.

“We have been resilient and adaptive and kept all our research stations going strong and our expeditioners safe for another year,” Ellis said on Monday.

“Our people deployed south and their families are always in our thoughts. Midwinter is an opportunity to have some fun as we reflect on how far we’ve come and what is yet to be achieved.”

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