Adventures in Antarctica

COVID has reached Antarctica, and HVAC systems are being pushed everywhere

By Amara Rozgus January 31, 2022
In Patagonia, the glaciers are massive. Courtesy: Amara Rozgus

Planning a trip to Antarctica is unlike any other vacation or travel planning I’ve done. My husband and I started preparations about two years ago. We began with a lot of research, focusing on what we needed to prepare and how we could accomplish everything.

The first step was finding a tour operator who offered what we wanted — a cruise with options for various adventures by sea and on land. A coworker’s college roommate owns a company that specializes in adventure travel, so the hunt was simplified dramatically. Plus, I’d met this CEO in a bar over beer and appetizers several years before, so the deal was sealed.

Next, we had to pick dates. Antarctica is “open” for tourists only a couple of months during the Southern Hemisphere summer. To avoid any conflicts with conferences or work travel, we selected a date in mid-February 2021.

Saving for the trip was high on the list of things to do. While we try to always have a little tucked away for travel, this trip would require some rigorous saving, with some of the expenses paid for afterward (hello, credit!).

Finally, we needed clothing and equipment. Living in Chicago afforded us the luxury of trying winter clothes in real-time, so we experimented with options to match Antarctica’s average temperature of 14°F. Every time we stepped outside in the winter, we test-ran layering options.

Then, a month before we were due to leave, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all of our planning went down the drain.

Fast-forward to today. All of our preparation has been fine-tuned, and we’re ready to depart. The newest hurdle, COVID-19, has simply been added to our checklist of things to worry about and prepare for.

Because of my many conversations with mechanical engineers and the countless articles and other content we’ve run in the past year, I’ve added HVAC systems and sanitization to the list of questions I ask our tour operator (thanks for all your patience, Liz).

What kind of filters, MERV or otherwise, are on the ship? How frequently is the air changed in the cabins and shared spaces? What happens if someone tests positive right before departure? While these questions aren’t unusual for anyone these days, problematic answers could become a logistical nightmare while traveling to a part of the world that connects to the outside only by satellite phone.

While preparations for a big trip are a bit different, questions about indoor air quality will persist over the next several months and even years. The concept of designing HVAC systems to combat pandemics has bubbled to the surface and will keep building professionals busy for the foreseeable future.

And, if you’re curious about how the continent at the bottom of the planet is doing, check back for an update upon my return.

Author Bio: Amara Rozgus is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader