The South Pole Just Got Its Very Own Greenhouse

The South Pole is so remote and lifeless that most people forget it’s there, and if we’re being honest, there isn’t that much there besides dedicated scientists, brave penguins, and a whole lot of ice. But starting in October of 2017, there’s going to be just a little more life down at the South Pole, courtesy of Eden ISS— a 20-foot long shipping container that hopes to grow 30 to 50 different species of plants.

The idea is to diversify the packaged food diet of Antarctic scientists by growing plants that can be eaten straight off the vine. Of course, the growing isn’t so simple as the harvesting– the project is bringing a whole new meaning to extreme weather gardening. As Megan Gannon writes for Scientific American:

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“Cultivating greens in the Antarctic’s hostile conditions requires extreme measures—temperatures on the Ekström Ice Shelf can drop to −22 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun disappears for months at a time. To beat the odds, Zabel has turned to the growing method known as aeroponics, which eliminates the need for soil (greenhouses at the American and Australian stations use this method, too). Instead fruit and veggie plants will sit on racks with their roots hanging in the air, where they receive a spritz of nutrient-rich mist every few minutes. Extra carbon dioxide will be pumped into the 75-degree F greenhouse for enrichment, and 42 LED lamps will be tuned to the red and blue wavelengths that plants thrive on, giving the greenhouse a purplish glow.

Biting into a ripe fruit or vegetable could boost morale for the 10 crew members set to overwinter at Neumayer III next season. But the garden is more than a treat for polar scientists, Zabel says. Ultimately the project is designed to test techniques for efficiently cultivating plant-based food in even more extreme environments, such as on the International Space Station or Mars.”

Read the full article on Scientific American.

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