Our Physical Environments

The environment in Antarctica is unique. Almost the entire continent is covered in permanent ice, with only approximately 0.25% of the surface exposed as rock, such as nunataks or oases. The depth of ice can vary between 0.5 km – 4.5 km from the coastal areas to the interior, with an average of thickness of 2km. Beneath the ice lies an entire continent of mountains, lakes and plains.

The ice is continually moving – it flows towards the coast and ice moves between a couple of millimetres per year in the interior increasing to 4km per year near the coast.

White Desert activities take place in four, distinct bio-geo-physical environments. For each location, we prepare specific Environmental Management Plans which take the specific environment into account.

Echo and Wolf’s Fang, Dronning Maud Land

The Wolf’s Fang area is the location of Wolf’s Fang Runway along with the transit expedition camp and Echo camp. It is located within a blue-ice field surrounded by nunataks, which are exposed mountain peaks above the ice. It is named after the nearby peak, Ulvetanna, also known Wolf’s Fang peak.

There are three species of birds known to breed in the inland nunataks of Dronning Maud Land, these are the Antarctic Petrel, Snow Petrel and the South Polar Skua. The nearby nunataks provide a habitat for storm petrels as well as lichen and some moss.

Wolf’s Fang blue-ice runway is the main gateway to Antarctica for all White Desert operations. The runway is only manned and operated during the short summer operating period between November and February each year and so, all activities are temporary and seasonal in nature.

The blue-ice runway is approximately 3km in length with a width of 60 meters. It is made entirely of groomed ice, including a taxiway and apron. It is one of only a handful of blue-ice runways in Antarctica.

There are no research stations in the immediate vicinity and the closest protected site is Svarthamaren Antarctic Special Protected Area (ASPA) located 135 km away and the Gruber Mounts Important Bird Area. These are taken into account during our flight planning.

Atka Bay, Princess Martha Coast

Atka Bay is the location of the Emperor penguin colony, along the Princess Martha Coast, a coastal zone in the western area of Dronning Maud Land. Atka Bay is a 440 square kilometres area of seasonal sea ice, adjacent to the Ekstrom Ice Shelf.

The colony is usually found on the sea-ice, and occasionally up on the ice shelf. Latest estimates are that there is a population of 24,000 Emperor penguins. Other wildlife observed here include seals, such as the Weddell seal. There is also potential to encounter birds which are known to inhabit the coastal zones of Dronning Maud land. These include the South Polar Skua, Antarctic Petrel and the Snow Petrel.

Atka bay is covered for most of the year with fast ice reaching a thickness of 2 metres or more by late winter. Icebergs often run aground in the bay and some remain in situ for a number of years before breaking up and drifting away. Drifting snow forms natural steep ramps from sea ice to ice shelf surfaces at many places when it is deposited in the protected zones of the ice edge. Atka Bay is also subject to long term scientific research and the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) operates Neumayer Research Station III there all year round.

We follow strict protocols to ensure our visits have no impact on the research being undertaken. White Desert follows specific guidelines for visits to Atka Bay in addition to the IAATO Guidelines.

Whichaway, Schirmacher Oasis

The Schirmacher Oasis is the location of Whichaway camp. Whichaway camp has been designed, taking the free-ground into account, ensuring that it can be easy dismantled and removed without impacts.

The Schirmacher Oasis is a 25 km long and up to 3 km wide ice-free plateau with more than 100 freshwater lakes, melt streams and glaciers.

The lakes in the oasis have been categorised by scientists as land-locked, pro-glacial or glacial. The lakes are interconnected through a number of geo-physical processes, including channels, streams, drifted snow accumulation and melt. Freshwater lakes provide habitat for microfauna (such as nematodes or protozoa),  the ice-free ground for lichen and moss, and the oasis provides habitat for some bird species such as polar skua and a small number of Adelie penguins.


The closest protected area is Dakshin Gangotri Glacier ASPA 163,  800 meters away. There are also two historic monument plaques: HSM 44: dedicated to Dakshin Gangotri and HSM 87: the location of the historic German research station, Georg Forster.

The Schirmacher Oasis is also the location of two research stations: Novolazarevskaya research station located at a distance of approximately 7 km to the east of Whichaway camp and associated Novo blue ice runway and Maitri research station, located at a distance of 4km to the east of Whichaway camp. This is a year round station, located on ice-free ground in the Oasis. It has been operating since 1989, as part of the Indian National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research programme.

Dixie’s Camp (FD83) and South Pole

Dixie’s Camp, our stop-off field camp location en-route to the South Pole is located in the High Interior East Antarctic Ice-sheet. These locations are not considered to provide a suitable habitat for birds, though off-course south polar skuas and snow petrels have been occasionally observed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station!

At the South Pole we follow the Management Plan of the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station Antarctic Special Managed Area (ASMA). There are also historic monuments at this location with the South Pole Flag Mast HSM 1 which is the site of the ceremonial South Pole Flag mast surrounded by the flags of the twelve original Antarctic Treaty nations.

It also commemorates the International Geophysical Year and is symbolic of all expeditions which have reached the South Pole. It was first installed in 1965 by the first by the First Argentine Overland Polar Expedition and Amundsen’s Tent (HSM 80) is a symbolic dedication to the location of Amundsen’s Tent, which was installed at 90° by the Norwegian group of explorers led by Amundsen on their arrival at the South Pole on 14 December 1911. The actual tent is currently buried underneath the snow and ice.

  • Science Support

    At the heart of White Desert’s mission is the desire to create a positive impact on Antarctica’s future through its tourism and science logistics programmes.

  • Sustainability

    From inception to implementation, we always have our environmental footprint in mind to preserve the delicate equilibrium of this unique wilderness.

  • Environmental Governance

    With 18 years of operational experience in Antarctica, we have an in depth understanding of what is truly required to preserve Antarctica’s environmental equilibrium.

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