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July 1, 2009

Antarctic Item 059 | Jamesways Part 2


Jamesways, you could say, are the hardest working huts in snow business. Keeping a
camp of scientists (and an artist or two) relatively dry and warm throughout a season
on the Ice is a tall order, especially at the South Pole’s Summer Camp.


Summer Camp is the colony of Jamesways (partly pictured above) situated near the
Pole’s elevated station. Most of the huts are living quarters, and at least one serves
as a lounge. They’re put to a real test here because even at midsummer’s warmest,
outside temperatures average around −25 °C (−12 °F).

Jamesways are either centrally heated by oil burning heaters or use passive solar heat
and solar power for space heating. The key of course is heat retention, which is where
our heroes, the roof blankets, come in.


Roof blankets are a wall system typically using a layer of kapok fiber for insulation.
Kapok, derived from the ceiba tree’s seed pod, is ideal for its lightness, resiliency,
resistance to water and of course for its organic nature. Its flammability requires
flameproof encasement though, and these outer layers — typically muslin or
heavier cotton duck — are further treated with vinyl or plastic for extra durability
and weatherproofing.

Given all that, Jamesways still fall short on energy efficiency and tend to heat un-
evenly (the floor remains considerably colder than the rest of the space). Pushed
to its limit by the onset of Pole winter weather, Summer Camp shuts down for the
dark half of the year, to be dug out of snowdrifts and repopulated at sunrise the
following season. And so the cycle goes.

Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 9:39 am


  1. Here’s a weird question: How do you convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius once you get below zero? Is it still (F x 1.8)-32=C ?

    I’ve never heard of a ceiba tree before. I’ll google it, but this looks kind of like fiberglass insulation. Strange.

    Comment by Donovan Rittenbach — July 8, 2009 @ 7:03 am

  2. Weird question perhaps, but a good one! Yes, the conversion formula is the same with sub-freezing temperatures too. However I believe your F>C formula is a tad off; it should be (5/9) x (F-32) = C.

    Kapok and fiberglass insulation can look remarkably similar, and both are used in roof blankets. I am (or at least was) pretty sure it’s kapok pictured here, but I’m no fiber expert so please correct me if I’m wrong!

    Comment by mbartalos — July 9, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

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