Curiously Polar

The Arctic and the Antarctic are privileged locations for observers interested in understanding how our world is shaped by the forces of nature and the workings of history. These areas have inspired countless humans to undertake epic expeditions of discovery and have witnessed both great triumphs and miserable defeats. As a planetary litmus paper it is at the poles we can detect the effects of natural oscillations and human activities on the global ecosystems.


116 Mysterious Antarctic Murders

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Even the most remote continent without a native population and only roughly a thousand scientists during wintertime is not free from crime. And maybe it is precisely the desolate location and seclusion that drives some people out of their minds. Enclosed in a very small space with a handful of people who cannot be chosen with six months of total darkness people are under significantly higher stress and the stress induced by harsh winter conditions on the continent has been known to take its toll on residents and explorers of the Antarctic. If you’re stuck there with somebody you really can’t stand, too bad. You’re stuck with them. And if you’re missing somebody who’s far away, too bad. You’re stuck without them. Apart from that, Antarctic stations are largely not designed to be your fancy home away from home, they can be dull places to live. They’re designed to minimise construction cost, rather than keep people amused, interested and comfortable, and extreme weather can make stepping outside for a change of scenery difficult, dangerous or impossible.

Under these conditions, some people thrive by developing a sense of solidarity and teamwork. Others may become depressed and change their behaviour. One station cook began serving unpalatable meals to his crew-mates after a love affair with a co-worker went sour until the group revolted and frightened him back into line. In an extreme case at Russia’s Vostok station in 1959, a scientist became unhinged after losing a game of chess, and murdered his opponent with an axe. Chess was subsequently banned at Russian Antarctic stations. And in 2000 an Australian astrophysicist died mysteriously from methanol poisoning at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. Due to complicated jurisdiction in Antarctica the scientist’s body was held for nearly six months over winter before it could be flown to Christchurch, New Zealand, the base for American activities in Antarctica, for autopsy. Until today, the circumstances of his death remain a mystery.


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