This story appears in the January 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.
For one year Konsta Punkka traveled throughout Europe photographing Integrated Carbon Observation System research stations, which measure greenhouse gases. The stations tend to be in remote areas of the continent, but no others are as high as Jungfraujoch in Switzerland—or as accessible to tourists.
Ride up a mountain: The Jungfraujoch research station looks rugged and isolated—and it is—but beneath its windswept stones lie an ice palace, a chocolate shop, and the highest train station in Europe. Like the travelers, Punkka rode a cogwheel train from Kleine Scheidegg through a tunnel under the mountain to get there. After he disembarked, he stepped into a high-speed elevator. It shot him up to the research station on top of the peak where he, unlike the tourists, was allowed to bunk with the scientists for four days.
Bundling up: Punkka dressed for early spring in the Alps—in down, fleece, and multiple layers.
- Boots for deep snow
- Camera with three lenses
- Snow pants (warm enough to let him lie on the ground while photographing wildlife)
- A drone with three extra batteries (batteries die quickly in these harsh conditions)
- Winter mittens, with room for hand warmers (Punkka piloted the drone barehanded, so he needed to be able to warm his hands quickly)
‘A very magical morning’: Just before a spring storm hit after two days of “bad sunrises,” Punkka went out on the upper deck with his drone. “I wanted to highlight the station, to watch the mountain with the sunrise light.” He sent the drone soaring away from the peak. When it reached a good vantage point, Punkka flung his arms up in the air: “I don’t often shoot myself in pictures, but I wanted to show the scale.” It was so cold that after he got the shot, he hurried inside to pilot the drone from the relative comfort of the research station.
By the numbers
Feet above sea level
Year research station was built