Sunniva Sorby and Hilde Fålun Strøm’s cabin in Svalbard, Norway. Courtesy of Hearts in the Ice
McMurdo Station, an Antarctic research base 2,415 miles south of Christchurch, New Zealand, is a strange place to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s been a home of sorts for Pedro Salom since he took a dishwashing job there in 2001, when he was 24. Now an assistant area manager with more than a dozen Antarctic deployments behind him, Salom has grown accustomed to the ebb and flow of life on the ice. There’s the surge of excitement when new arrivals join the camp, the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world when earth and sea disappear in the endless night from April to August; and the joy when the sun finally appears behind the mountains once again. He’s also been around long enough to know that, as people reach the end of their deployments, many begin to struggle—whether they’ve been at McMurdo for over a year, or even just a few months.
“One of the things I look for is dramatic changes in people’s habits,” says Salom. “If somebody has been going to the gym every day at 6:30 a.m., and usually gets to lunch exactly at 11:45, and that person suddenly misses the gym, or starts taking food to go or doesn’t show up for lunch at all, that’s a serious flag in my mind.”