Antarctic expeditioners take icy plunge for solstice

PLUNGING into sub-zero water may seem like midwinter madness, but the celebration is an Antarctic tradition of heroic dimensions.

Antarctic expeditioners at Davis Station celebrated the winter solstice on Wednesday by cutting a hole in the sea ice with chainsaws and jumping in.

The water was -1.8C, while the air temperature was -33.5C.

The daring dip continues a long tradition of midwinter celebrations that date back to the heroic age of exploration.

Fifteen of the team at Davis took the icy plunge, while expeditioners at Mawson played sea-ice golf and those at Casey marked the occasion with their own "ice castle".

Davis station leader Kirsten le Mar said the celebrations marked a halfway point for expeditioners spending winter on the icy continent.

"After three weeks of darkness, today marks the beginning of longer days in Antarctica, although it will still be 19 days before the sun starts to peek above the horizon here at Davis," Dr le Mar said.

More than a century ago, Douglas Mawson's expedition celebrated June 21 with a meal of many courses.

Mawson's Huts Replica Museum volunteer David Adams said Mawson wrote about the midwinter feast in his diary from 1912.

"He wrote about the delicacies, the speeches and music that followed," Mr Adams said.

"At this time of the year they were stuck inside a lot, so they celebrated just about anything they could."

A total of 68 expeditioners are living and working in Antarctica and on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island for the Australian Antarctic Program this winter.

Dr le Mar, who is experiencing her first Antarctica winter, said the dark months were amazing.

She said the winter held "other-worldly phenomenon" such as unusual polar clouds, bright stars and the aurora australis.

Ocean swims in sub-zero temperatures are possible because salt water has a lower freezing point the fresh water.