Despite the frigid temperatures, ornery elephant seals, and months of perpetual darkness, Antarctica is still a place where money matters. That’s where Wells Fargo comes in.
The banking conglomerate installed an automatic teller machine (ATM) back in 1998 at McMurdo Station, the largest science hub on the continent. Depending on the season, McMurdo’s population ranges from 250 to more than 1000. And like any small community, commerce is crucial. In order to patronize the coffee shops, general stores, bars, or post office, money is exchanged in what amounts to a closed economy. Some places only accept cash; others have a credit card minimum that’s hard to meet when you need just a couple of items.
But what happens if there’s a malfunction at a time when flights in and out are scarce due to weather conditions?
According to Wells Fargo spokesperson Kristopher Dahl, the company trains McMurdo staff to make simple repairs; more importantly, there’s a second ATM that can be cannibalized for parts. “Every two years, both machines are serviced and brought up to speed on the latest technology,” he says. The vendors chosen for that job undergo a psychological exam and a physical to make sure they’re equipped to deal with the Antarctic climate in case they get held over.
While McMurdo is near New Zealand territory, the ATM only dispenses American currency. (Staffers can exchange money at Scott Base, which is about two miles away.) There is no such thing as the Antarctic dollar, though the Antarctica Overseas Exchange Office does produce “collectible” bills they’ll buy or sell for their face value until the faux-money expires.
Naturally, we wondered what the consequences would be if someone lost their mind and had the financial resources to max out their daily withdrawal limit until they depleted the ATM of its cash reserves, ruining the economy of an entire continent.
“That’s interesting,” Dahl says. “For security reasons, we can’t share how much cash is in the machine or other related information.” Anyone planning any type of foul play should take note: Dahl says that there’s a camera in the unit.
[via Today I Learned]