McMurdo Station

Nov. 26, 2012

After returning from snow school, I have a few days in McMurdo to wait for my inland flight to Concordia station. McMurdo is the largest Antarctic base, has more than 900 people during the summer season (although only about 200 in the winter), and is the most Southern harbor in the world. To me, McMurdo, or Mac-Town as the locals call it, is like a really strange airport, or a small but busy college campus. Even though the station is run by the United States, a lot of other countries’ researchers that work in Antarctica still fly into Mac’s ice runway (the planes land on the thick sea ice) and then fly inland to their own bases or fieldcamps from there, so there are a lot of people in-transit between one place and another at McMurdo at any given time. Still, a large population of folks live at Mac to operate the base; everyone from cooks to computer techs to NASA astrophysicists, so there are always plenty of people to talk to, and there are more resources here than a lot of other places on the continent.

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DCIM100GOPROThe view of McMurdo Station from Hut’s Point on a dreary day

IMG_5955McMurdo’s helicopter bay

IMG_0752McMurdo’s residence office keeps tab of how many people are on-base every week

People live in one of the many dorms that can house up to 1,125 people (you usually share rooms just like on a college campus). There are shower blocks in the dorms, although you’re asked not to shower more than 3 times a week since Antarctica is very dry and liquid water is a valued resource. For meals we eat in a large cafeteria. McMurdo has a computer bay with internet, which will be much less accessible at my station, as well as a coffee shop, a gym, and even a church. Since working at a base in Antarctica means there isn’t really anywhere else to wander off to, Mac hosts events like movie nights and talent shows, and people have clubs to practice everything from yoga to ultimate Frisbee. I’m staying in the ‘in-transit’ dorms which are meant for people who aren’t staying at this station for more than a few days before they move on to their home base. I like going to the cafeteria for meals because I sit with different people every time and listen to their stories; who they are, where they’re from, and why they’re in Antarctica. Most people that work on the Ice are fairly well-traveled, and they spend their time varying between talking about their work and wondering where they will go on vacation after they complete their season on the Ice. (Most people spend a week or two on a warm island on their way home after working here for a few months. We work 6-7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day through Christmas, New Year’s, and all other holidays, so it’s nice to finally take a break when you go home and warm up a bit!)

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IMG_5061The view across the bay to Scott Base, New Zealand’s famously all-painted-green station. Both McMurdo and Scott base are on McMurdo Sound, very close to each other. It’s nice to have neighbors in Antarctica.

During my time at Mac I met a few firemen who work at Mac’s firestation, a few Air Force guys that fly the planes, some people that handle all of the cargo and food shipments that fly into McMurdo from New Zealand, as well as two penguin biologists. A French PhD student who will be drilling ice cores on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet joined me for a hike around the station, and we explored the helicopter zone, the coast (no penguins today, unfortunately), and Discovery Hut. Robert Scott was a British explorer who built Discovery Hut in the McMurdo area in 1901-1904. He later tried to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1912, but reached it second after a Norwegian named Roald Amundsen (who was also the first explorer to reach the North Pole) beat Scott there by only five weeks. The history of the early polar explorers is really interesting and extremely dramatic, but I could fill an entire blog with those stories so to keep things short I’ll just say that it’s fascinating to see Discovery Hut now, with seal skins and old food tins scattered around just like they were left in 1904, which has now become a protected historical landmark in Antarctica. I’ll probably fly to my station soon so it’s nice to be a tourist in Mactown for a day or two before I leave for the High Plateau.

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DCIM100GOPROSeals napping on the frozen ocean in front of Hut’s Point on McMurdo Sound

DCIM100GOPROStanding in front of Discovery Hut, built by explorer Richard Scott 1901-1904

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Posted on 2012, in 2012 (11/26) McMurdo Station, Season 2: Life on the High Plateau. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Your blog is fascinating, Alex.

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