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More than a century has passed since explorers raced to plant their flags at the bottom of the world, and for decades to come this continent is supposed to be protected as a scientific preserve, shielded from intrusions like military activities and mining. But an array of countries are rushing to assert greater influence here, with an eye not just toward the day those protective treaties expire, but also for the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now. Russia has built Antarctica’s first Orthodox church on a hill overlooking its research base, transporting the logs all the way from Siberia. Less than an hour away by snowmobile, Chinese labourers have updated the Great Wall Station, a linchpin in China’s plan to operate five bases on Antarctica, complete with an indoor badminton court, domes to protect satellite stations and sleeping quarters for 150 people. Not to be outdone, India’s futuristic new Bharathi base, built on stilts using 134 interlocking shipping containers, resembles a spaceship. Turkey and Iran have announced plans to build bases, too. Being stationed in Antarctica involves adapting to life on the planet’s driest, windiest and coldest continent, yet each nation manages to make itself at home.

Story by Simon Romero and photos by Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times

Ernesto Molina, a Chilean scientist, walking above the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, overlooking the Russian Antarctic base, on King George Island, Antarctica.

The Rev. Benjamin Maltzev in the bell room at the Church of the Holy Trinity, a Russian Orthodox church overlooking the Russian Antarctic base.

A member of a German research team counting the number of penguin species and pairs as part of continuing studies of bird species on King George Island, Antarctica.

Penguins jumping onto a melting iceberg near Villa Las Estrellas, a Chilean settlement and research station.

Chilean researchers are battered by waves on their way back to base after taking seawater samples, on King George Island.

Ernesto Molina, a Chilean scientist, carrying an instrument used for analyzing seawater, walks past an elephant seal pup.

Ernesto Molina, a Chilean scientist, carrying sea water samples back to base on King George Island.

Ernesto Molina, right, a Chilean scientist, and the winter expedition crew of Russian research team members drinking homemade vodka at the Bellingshausen Antarctic base, on King George Island, Antarctica.

Chilean air force members and Russian Antarctic crew members at a birthday party for two of their colleagues, on King George Island, Antarctica.

Russian winter expedition crew members in the banya, or sauna, at the Bellingshausen Antarctica base, on King George Island, Antarctica.

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