PHOTOS: The mystery of the igloo at Australia’s Casey station in Antarctica

A room with a view. Image: Clint Chilcott/Antarctic Division

People keen on all things Antarctic regularly check webcams showing real-time happenings in the frozen continent.

So it didn’t go unnoticed when a strange blob started growing in the right third of the feed from a webcam at Australia’s Casey station in Antarctica.

The emails started to come into Australia’s Antarctic Division. What was happening?

It tuns out that two expeditioner friends, communications technician Clint Chilcott and electrician Adam Roberts, thought they’d have a go at building an igloo.

These snow shelters, traditionally belonging to Inuit, the indigenous people of the Arctic, are normally only seen in the northern hemisphere.

“Not many places you get to live is there enough snow to build an igloo,” Clint Chilcott told Business Insider.

Here’s the igloo, in a screenshot from the webcam, in relation to the station’s main building:

Image: Antarctic Division

For technical help they turned to the official Australian field manual, the latest version from 2016, which has instructions on, when trapped in the open, how to build shelters, including an igloo.

Igloos are built from compressed snow, which contain pockets of air, and warm quickly with just body heat.

The two had been talking about building an igloo for a while.

The only tool the expeditioners used was a short pruning knife, of the type bought cheaply at a local hardware store.

“It’s a one-off opportunity, not many places you get to live is there enough snow to build an igloo,” says Clint.

“It’s really a two person, at least, job. We definitely couldn’t have built it without the other one.”

Here’s a time lapse from the webcam, showing the appearance of the igloo (on the right of the screen):

Clint and Adam found that the snow around the helipad was perfect, nicely packed down and easy to cut into blocks.

About 100 blocks went into the construction.

Adam says: “We built a door on the northern side of the igloo so we could so we could see out onto the ocean … sea ice and icebergs.”

The trickiest part was the roof. Someone has to stay inside to complete the dome and then cut a hole for a door to get out.

Adam said: “Because you’re building a spiral you can’t really stop, you have to keep going as long as you can, especially once you get to the bit at the top. Then you’ve got to cut the door in so you can get out. Otherwise you’re stuck in there.”

Clint spent the night inside after the station chef offered him breakfast in bed if he slept over in the igloo.

“It does get down below freezing, so it was quite cool,” says Clint. He had plenty of sleeping bags and liners to keep me warm.

A tongue-in-cheek advert appeared on the Casey station notice board:

“Spend a night in an igloo in Antarctica, with helicopters.

“Centrally located on Casey station, close to all the best sights … comfortably sleeps one or if travelling with a really close friend there’s room for two. Cooked breakfast available on request … book now before the busy winter season gets into full swing and ask about our multi night deals!”

Here’s a closer look.

Adam Roberts (inside the igloo) and Clint Chilcott working on their igloo at Casey research station© Jacque Comery/Australian Antarctic Division
Igloo contruction at Casey research station (l-r) Chris George, Adam Roberts, Clint Chilcott. Image: Jacque Comery/Australian Antarctic Division
Clint Chilcott with breakfast in bed. Image: Antarctic Division/Andrew Donald
The hand built igloo at Casey research station lit up at night. Image: Clint Chilcott/Australian Antarctic Division

The igloo makers say they plan extensions to the current structure.

Perhaps an en-suite?