Credits By: Southern Living
In an extraordinary agricultural achievement, scientists have cultivated watermelons in Antarctica in one of the most unlikely places on Earth. This groundbreaking experiment took place at Vostok Station, a year-round Russian research station known as the Pole of Cold due to its classification as the coldest location on the planet, where temperatures have plummeted to a chilling minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 89.2 degrees Celsius).
Watermelons, a fruit with roots dating back more than 4,300 years to Sudan, seem worlds apart from the frigid environment of Antarctica. However, researchers from the Russian Antarctic Expedition, in collaboration with the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI), the Agrophysical Research Institute, and the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, took on the challenge of creating a greenhouse oasis to cultivate these juicy fruits.
To create a favorable environment for the watermelons, the team increased the air temperature and humidity inside the greenhouse. They deliberately selected two varieties of early-ripening watermelons known for their adaptability to low atmospheric pressure and lack of oxygen. The seeds were planted in a thin layer of soil substitute and exposed to specialized lighting that simulated sunlight. Since there were no insects for pollination, the researchers manually pollinated the plants to ensure their growth.
After 103 days, the scientists were met with a delightful surprise: eight ripe and sweet watermelons had flourished across six different plants. These melons weighed approximately 2 pounds (1 kilogram) and boasted diameters of up to 5 inches (13 centimetres).
The experiment demonstrated the possibility of growing watermelons in the coldest place on Earth and provided a refreshing treat for the scientists living in the harsh Antarctic conditions. Andrei Teplyakov, the lead geophysicist of AARI, shared the excitement of the polar explorers, remarking that the taste of summer was a welcomed respite amidst the frigid landscape.
This isn’t the first time produce has grown successfully at Vostok Station. Researchers achieved remarkable milestones in previous years by cultivating various plants, including dill, basil, parsley, arugula, and cabbage.
Moreover, Vostok Station is not the only Antarctic research outpost to embrace agriculture. In 2021, Korean scientists succeeded in growing watermelons at King Sejong Station in West Antarctica, where temperatures dropped to minus 78.1 F (minus 25.6 C).
These remarkable endeavors reflect the spirit of scientific exploration and innovation, showcasing how human determination can conquer even the harshest of environments. As researchers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, the success of cultivating watermelons in Antarctica exemplifies the potential for future advancements in sustainable food production and life support systems in extreme environments.