International Antarctic Center

Ben Sasse

Christchurch, New Zealand is home to the International Antarctic Centre. In the early 1900’s many of the expeditions to Antarctica departed from the city of Christchurch. Today Christchurch is still considered to be one of the gateways to Antarctica, with hundreds of flights leaving for the cold continent every year. At only 1500 miles (2500km) away New Zealand is the second closest country to Antarctica following Chile, which is around 600 miles (1000km) away. Several countries including the United States utilize Christchurch’s international airport as a re-fueling station before flying to one of the continent’s many research stations. All of these factors make Christchurch the ideal location for the International Antarctic Centre. The center hosts several exciting exhibits including a penguin encounter, an Antarctic storm simulator, Hagglund rides, along with several other exhibits relating to Antarctic exploration and science.

The Antarctic storm simulator was created to give visitors an appreciation for the extremes of Antarctica. Antarctica is considered to be the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth. The coldest recorded temperature was -128.9ºF (-89.4ºC) at Lake Vostok. Katabatic wind systems in Antarctica produce winds in excess of 100 mph; the highest recorded wind speed was an astonishing 199 mph (327km/h). Obviously these temperatures are a bit too extreme for the average visitor to the International Antarctic Centre. The storm simulator maintains a temperature of around 18ºF (-8ºC) and produces 25 mile per hour winds, with a wind-chill factor of -31ºF (-35ºC). The Antarctic storm simulator reminded me more of Wisconsin’s cold winters, than what an actual Antarctic storm is capable of.

One of the most popular exhibits at the International Antarctic Centre is the penguin encounter which is home to a few of New Zealand’s little blue penguins. Little blue penguins are the smallest penguin in the world standing at only 16 inches (40cm) tall. All of the penguins at the center were found injured, and were rescued from Banks Peninsula New Zealand. The exhibit was designed to handle up to 26 penguins and has viewing windows which allow visitors to see the penguins resting in their burrows. This is a great exhibit that allows visitors the chance to view these birds during the day, which would be a rare occurrence in the wild as they are nocturnal. The exhibit was originally created to raise awareness on the significance of seabird conservation in New Zealand.

The Hagglund was originally created for the Swedish army. A few of these tracked amphibious vehicles were adopted by Antarctic researches, which needed a versatile vehicle that could handle the extremes of Antarctica. At the International Antarctic center visitors have the chance to ride in Hagglund, which traverses slopes in excess of 400 and crosses a 6 foot deep pool of water. After a brief ten minute ride I had a much greater appreciation for the Antarctic researchers who travel great distance in Hagglunds. By no means is the ride comfortable, the quarters are tight and the ride is rather bumpy.

Within the museum there are several other exhibits relating to current research and previous exploration in Antarctica. One of the most memorable pieces was a series of plaques representing every country that signed the Antarctic Treaty, a treaty dedicated to peace and science within Antarctica. The International Antarctic Centre was an excellent educational experience connecting Christchurch to past and present Antarctic explorations.

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