According to a recent audit by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Office of the Inspector General of the US Antarctic Program (USAP), scientists at an American research base in Antarctica are abusing alcohol to an alarming degree, and may begin to be subject to breathalyzer tests to ensure they’re not showing up to work inebriated.
Alcohol consumption on the southern continent is not without precedent. In the early days of polar exploration, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen supplied his expedition with both wine and spirits. During Operation Deep Freeze, Bavarian Old Style Lager was brewed and canned specially for the expedition. The sailors and military personnel who participated in the icy military exercises came to look forward to their monthly ration of beer as the sailors of olden times cherished their ration of rum. But during the original U.S. military’s exploration of Antarctica, only beer was permitted, no hard liquor. Red Band beer was a particular favorite of the polar troops during the 1960s.
It seems, however, that the fun has gotten a little out of hand. The overconsumption of alcohol has reportedly led to “unpredictable behavior” on the part of the scientists, including “fights, indecent exposure, and employees arriving to work under the influence.” One scientist was even reprimanded for brewing beer in his research laboratory.
Other violations were apparently taking place at McMurdo, Palmer and Amundsen-Scott South Pole stations. Although there are bars and a shop to purchase alcohol on the bases, it is strictly prohibited to consume alcohol while on the clock. Human resources reported to auditors that they used a breathalyzer on an employee only once to determine their level of intoxication.
However, due to the extreme altitude of Antarctica and the difference in surface pressure, it would be incredibly difficult to ensure that breathalyzers are properly calibrated. Therefore, it is unlikely they would be widely employed on the continent.