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5 Otherworldly Antarctic Research Stations and Abandoned Military Bases

4 min read

When first setting foot on the vast continent of Antarctica, you might believe for a moment that you’ve landed on another planet.

Looking out over pristine ice cover and massive glaciers contrasted with the stark gray of snow-peaked mountains—whether you're looking for wildlife on the Antarctic peninsula, practicing yoga, learning more about the South Pole or taking in the amazing sights from the open deck - you may feel like you’re having an entirely other-worldly experience.

In fact, in some areas in Antarctica, you could even have a version of a paranormal experience.

Even though the Antarctic Treaty limits the types of activities that can take place on the continent (at least, until 2041), Antarctica’s rich whaling, military and research history persists. And during a visit to the Antarctic, you're sure to have experiences unlike anywhere else on in the world.

Passengers cruise the area around Spurt Island, Antarctica, en route to a shore landing.

Is there a military base in Antarctica?

Many countries have tried to lay claim to the Antarctic region: in 1943, Britain’s Operation Tabarin saw the first ever bases built on the continent.

A few short years later, the United States Antarctic program launched Operation Highjump with a number of objectives, including using the Polar Region as an extreme-weather military training ground.

Chile soon followed, building Base Soberanía in 1947.

To this day, support of US scientific research activities at McMurdo Station, the US Antarctic Program's largest research station and hub for logistics, means that Operation Deep Freeze brings together the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard. Together, they provide the operations and logistical resources required at one of the most isolated research stations on Earth to support the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The British Antarctic survey also uses ships to deploy scientists into the field to learn more about Antarctica.

The ghosts of Antarctica’s lively (and often contentious) military history and its long-lasting importance to researchers make for fascinating and spooky shore landings. You can experience Antarctic shore landings and more on expeditions like the Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent or Crossing the Circle: Southern Expedition.

Here are 5 intriguing abandoned military bases and Antarctic research stations you can visit when you embark on an adventure to the mysterious 7th continent on an Antarctic expedition.

1. Port Lockroy

A designated Historic Site and Monument, Port Lockroy, on the western shore of Wiencke Island, is packed with whaling and naval history. Visitors are invited to explore Base A, an abandoned military base that currently operates as a museum in Antarctica.

Explore Port Lockroy, Antarctica, and send a postcard home from the Penguin Post Office!

Discovered by the French during their first Antarctic expedition, Port Lockroy was a popular refuge for whalers from 1911 to 1931. During the Second World War, Base A was constructed as part of the aforementioned Operation Tabarin; in the 1950s, a boathouse and generator were added.

The site was abandoned in 1962 and remained empty for over 30 years, until the British Antarctic Territory government restored it.

These days, a visit to Port Lockroy is like taking a walk back in time – not to one of Antarctica’s heydays, but over several decades of whaling and naval history.

2. Yankee Harbor

In the South Shetland Islands, you’ll find the long-abandoned Yankee Harbor Antarctica military base on Greenwich Island.

Its history dates back to 1820, when the British military and American sealers both knew the area.

Passengers explore Yankee Harbour, Antarctica, on a guided shore landing before heading back to their small expedition ship.

Today, the remains of an Argentine hut and a sealing try-pot are eerie reminders that once upon a time this land had residents other than the iconic Antarctic wildlife, including Gentoo penguins, Antarctic fur seals, Weddell seals and Southern Elephant seals, you may see there now.

3. Base Brown, Paradise Bay

Approaching the rock beach at Base Brown by Zodiac inflatables, the first thing you may notice is that the buildings at this seasonal Argentine research station are brown.

However, that's not how this base earned it's name. It was named after Admiral William Brown, an Irish-born Argentine naval officer beloved by his people.

In the early 1960s, Base Brown was one of the most complete biology labs in Antarctica. But in 1984, the entire base was burned to the ground by a physician who couldn’t bear the thought of spending another winter there. A U.S. ship and military personnel were dispatched to rescue those who remained.

Base Brown was rebuilt by the Argentines and has since served only as a summer research facility. Visiting this remote base with the knowledge of its history and the desperation of that previous researcher is sure to put an extra chill in your bones!

4. Stromness

Stromness is haunting today, but it must have been paradise to Sir Ernest Shackleton and companions Tom Crean and Frank Worsley from the James Caird lifeboat.

Explore Stromness and revisit the Heroic Age of Exploration in Antarctica. Photo: Jens Bludau - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

It was 1914, and the mighty Endurance had been crushed by ice; 22 men remained stranded on Elephant Island while a team of 6 made the challenging journey to South Georgia.

They’d landed on the island’s unpopulated south coast. Forced to leave 2 men who were weak with exhaustion behind, and a third to watch over them, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley set course in search of a rescue.

Some 36 hours into their trek, over and through the mountainous interior, Shackleton heard a whistle. Stromness was alive and bustling with whalers. The 3 men congratulated one another, and Shackleton went on to Grytviken in South Georgia to plan the retrieval of the rest of his men from Elephant Island.

In 1922, Shackleton died unexpectedly while launching another Antarctic expedition, and was laid to rest in South Georgia.

5. Whalers Bay, Deception Island

Perhaps one of the spookiest areas in Antarctica, Deception Island just might be a paranormal hot spot.

Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula
Deception Island, Antarctica. Photo: Dave Merron

In fact, the cast and crew of the popular Sci-Fi show Destination Truth camped out here to tape an episode in which they searched for signs of the afterlife coming to life in the wilds of the 7th continent.

Abandoned Antarctic research stations, military bases, whaling operations, aircraft hangars and graveyards – Deception Island has it all. And since a volcanic eruption in the late 1960s buried much of the island’s structure, it has been uninhabited and become über-creepy.

Whalers Bay, in particular, once a bustling hub of the whaling industry, is now home only to the rusting tanks and boilers left behind when the bottom dropped out of the whaling market in 1931 … and the graves of those who didn’t make it out in time.

Still hungry for more Antarctic info? Check out these 10 things you might not know about Antarctica and join the Quark Expeditions® community for the latest Polar Regions videos, blog posts and social conversations.

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