Vanda Station, Antarctica: a biography of the Anthropocene

by Adrian Howkins, Stephen Chignell and Andrew Fountain

30 Sep 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Number of pages
29 (pp. 61-89)

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Abstract: This article uses the history of New Zealand’s Vanda Station in Antarctica as a case study of the inseparability of human history and environmental change in the age of the Anthropocene. Vanda Station was built in the late 1960s to promote New Zealand’s sovereignty claims to Antarctica and to promote scientific research in the predominantly ice-free McMurdo Dry Valleys region. Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, the levels of the nearby Lake Vanda rose dramatically, and in the early 1990s the decision was taken to close the station. Rather than seeing the closure of Vanda simply as a consequence of the rising lake levels, this article suggests instead that it was the result of a number of interconnected social, political, scientific, and environmental factors. Although the concept of the Anthropocene is not unproblematic, a biographical approach to the history of Vanda Station can add depth and nuance to our understanding of the geological age of humans. In the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the ‘birth’, ‘life’ and ‘death’ of Vanda Station helps to demonstrate how the political status quo maintained itself through a partial adaptation to the new realities of the Anthropocene. This political adaptation, however, relies on maintaining human-nature dichotomies and resisting the full implications of viewing the region as an eco-social system.

Keywords: Antarctica, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Anthropocene, New Zealand, United States, Japan, history of science, environmental history, geopolitics, climate change, critical physical geography.

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 6 (Environmental History)

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