Carrier Transicold container refrigeration units have been enlisted in an unconventional application: serving as stationary freezers in support of environmental researchers working in one of the most remote parts of the world—Antarctica.
Mounted on 20-foot containers, two ThinLINE refrigeration units are in service at Palmer Station, a small US scientific environmental research base along the rocky shoreline of Anvers Island, west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Protecting food supplies year-round, they provide a vital service for a small, transient population that ebbs and flows each year as new teams of scientists change with the seasons.
“The two milvans sit side by side near our main building and are used strictly for food storage,” said Robert Farrell, Palmer Station area manager, Antarctic Support Contract, the prime logistical contractor to the US Antarctic Program. “Milvan” or just “van”—short for military van—is the nickname the staff has given to refrigerated storage units at the station. The two units can hold a six- to eight-month supply of food for the station, according to Farrell.
While the climate is consistently cold at Palmer Station, the research station is situated north of the Antarctic Circle, making it relatively mild compared with the international research operations that ring the continent further south. Thanks to the warmer ocean water, winter temperatures at Palmer Station average 14 degrees F (–10 degrees C), seldom dropping below 0 degrees F (–17 degrees C). During the research season, temperatures average 36 degrees F (2 degrees C).
However, reliable refrigeration is essential for the Palmer Station population, which ranges from a low of 16 staff in winter to as many as 44 in the austral summer. Researchers stay in dormitory-style bedrooms and eat in a cafeteria-style dining hall with a small kitchen and walk-in freezer, supported by the two ThinLINE-equipped freezer containers nearby.
Concrete blocks and a steel and wooden deck support the Palmer Station milvans, which have wooden storage shelves inside. ThinLINE units are set to maintain internal temperatures at –5 degrees F (–20 degrees C). “The freezers store beef, poultry, vegetables, fruit, and ice cream—everything you would keep in a normal freezer,” said Farrell.
Palmer Station has been in operation for about 45 years. Since 1990, it has been part of the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research Program, a program that studies effects of changing sea ice cover on the region’s ecosystem, including marine bacteria, plankton, and seabirds. On-site instruments measure seismic activity, atmospheric characteristics, and radio waves. Less than a mile away on Torgersen Island, Palmer Station’s solar-powered “penguin cam” keeps watch on a colony of 2,500 Adélie penguins.