Internet causes Antarctic stress

Oct 31 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The three British Antarctic Survey bases at Rothera, Halley and Signy must be some of the most isolated working environments on earth. Halley, for example, is afloat on an ice shelf on the mainland of Antarctica and is in darkness for 105 days during winter.

Supplies being landed twice a year by ship onto the ice shelf and then towed on sledges by Sno-cats to Halley, some 12 km distant from the ice edge.

So one might expect that the introduction of the internet to the bases would be a positive step to make life at the end of the earth a little more bearable.

But as British Antarctic Survey's head of personnel Fiona Brazil told delegates at the recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development annual conference, the introduction of the web has been a "poisoned chalice".

Apparently staff are talking to each other less, getting more homesick and even demanding delivery of items bought online.

"The social dynamic is changing out there because of the increased use of e-mail, web cameras, internet chat rooms and online shopping," she said.

"We are finding people are going to the common room to socialise less and spending more time on the internet. It has been quite interesting. One member of staff got increasingly upset about being away because he was always talking to his girlfriend online.

"They have also discovered internet shopping, and are ordering things to be sent to the nearby Falkland Islands. Then they are complaining that we can't ship this stuff to them immediately."