Posts Tagged ‘mcmurdo’

Farewell, McMurdo

February 14, 2011

And so my time here ends; I’ll be boarding a C-17 early this afternoon to head to Christchurch. I’ve still got plenty of posts to transcribe and photos to upload, so keep looking out for updates. Right now I’m just running around taking care of numerous small errands that have to be done before I leave.

I’ll leave you with a few nice pictures I took around 4:30 AM during a bout of insomnia the other night:

From Early morning McMurdo

Vessel 2: The Evolution

February 12, 2011

The fuel tanker was pretty much done with its duties here as of a few days ago, but it ran into some minor issues when it tried to actually leave. Last year’s ice pier had broken free of its moorings and drifted out in front of the ship. They had to send some people out to attach cables and retrieve it:

People in survival suits ('Mustang suits' designed to allow a human to survive even in frigid Antarctic waters) attaching cables to the old pier.

The icebreaker Oden escorted the tanker out the next day.

The Oden escorts the tanker out.

Shortly afterward, the resupply vessel–which had been waiting a few miles out, past the edge of the sea ice–came in.

The BBC EMS. Apparently it is quite hard, these days, to find container ships small enough to fit McMurdo's harbor.

The people on station who deal with Stuff have been working around the clock for the last week to get everything off the vessel and reload it with the things that go back to the States. First the folks in supply jobs offloaded what was on the boat–food, parts for vehicles, new equipment, things to sell in the store, more food, and so on. Large areas of the station were roped off as staging areas for all this stuff while people got it where it needed to go.

A central staging area, right outside the Galley.

A thousand people eat a lot of food in one year.

A chart of the off-limits areas, modified slightly by dorm residents.

Then other groups of people swung into gear to get things back onto the vessel–science samples going back to the States (including some of ours!) and all the waste generated by the station in the past year, which will be recycled or incinerated as appropriate. Supposedly they’re done, or close to done, and the vessel will leave this evening, and everything can go back to normal (or as normal as it gets around here.) We’ll see.

My friend Jessie has a great post about the vessel with photos from alternate perspectives and some time-lapse videos of the whole process. Check it out!

Waiting For My Ship to Come In

February 3, 2011

The vessel is coming.

Every year, McMurdo—enormous Antarctic city that it is—uses far more supplies than it would be economical to bring down by plane. So once a year, at the end of the season when the sea ice is a bit more navigable, ships come in bearing fuel and other necessities. Food, materials, parts, T-shirts for the store, you name it. An icebreaker (the Oden, this year) makes a path for the resupply ships through the remaining sea ice near shore.

This is an enormous undertaking. The fuel tanker arrived a few days ago, shortly after we got back from the field, and the fuelies (e.g. the people tasked with moving fuel around and getting it where it’s needed) have been working long hours all week to get it offloaded.

The enormous fuel tanker looks into the midnight sun. Scott's hut is visible behind it, a little ways to the right of the No Smoking sign.

Tomorrow, or so I am given to understand, The Vessel is due to come in. I don’t know much about The Vessel (as it is universally known) except that it will be taking many of our ice cores back to the States, but I do know what effects it’s having on the town. Dozens (hundreds?) of temporary helpers from the U.S. Navy have arrived to help offload it. The town’s supply staff will be working practically nonstop. Some of the inessential functions of the station are essentially shut down for the week to ensure that everyone concentrates on the enormous task at hand. Big areas of the station are restricted or entirely off limits.

In the meantime, we’re still busy processing all our samples to get them onto the vessel (we cut up the ice cores in record time, actually) and making pictures of bubbles–which I ought to post about soon.


Oh, by the way, the resupply ships dock at a pier that is made largely of ice—it’s just seawater pumped into the shape of a pier during the colder parts of the season, with a little bit of a framework (I think) to help it keep its shape. It’s several meters thick. Here they are blasting the edge off of it to get it ready for the tanker, which is visible in the background.


Camping Happily

January 6, 2011

Since my mother wrote some awesome limericks for my previous posts, I thought I should add a couple of my own.

From Happy Camper

Patient Field Safety personnel strive
To keep each Happy Camper alive
With rigorous training
And lots of explaining
Hoping when crisis strikes, we’ll survive

From Happy Camper

For my happily camping cohort
No mere tent of the usual sort
With so much snow around
Each of us can be found
In a fabulous personal fort

From Happy Camper

A note: I realize this post-a-day experiment has been going on for a very short time, but I’m already realizing some significant problems with it. Firstly, it makes it difficult to get a good, solid science post done–there’s too much background to do in a day. And secondly, it’s distracting me from doing actual science, not to mention enjoying Antarctica while I’m here. So, while post-a-day would be a laudable goal, I am going to scale back a bit and aim for maybe twice or thrice weekly.

Mist and Mystery at Castle Rock

January 4, 2011

I’m off to the famous “Happy Camper” outdoor survival school! In the meantime, enjoy these pictures from a hike to Castle Rock:

From Mist and Mystery at Castle Rock

Take to the Hills!

January 3, 2011

It occurred to me today that our study site is more remote than any other place I’ve been, by a decent margin. If the zombie apocalypse were to reach Antarctica the day after they dropped us off there, we’d have a lengthy distance to traverse, through harsh conditions, before we got back to the station–which is, itself, quite far away from the nearest truly habitable land. It’s possible to survive for a while in Antarctica by living off of fresh meat and burning blubber for heat (I think this is how Shackleton’s men survived when they were stranded on Elephant Island) but it’s not an especially pleasant experience, nor would it probably be sustainable in the long term.

In any case, being curious about just how far from station we would be, I made a map. Google Maps seems to have added considerably better imagery for this area since I tried it out on my first trip down. (I’m working on adding some of the interesting places around station to the map, as well as the further-out field sites.)

Map of McMurdo and surrounding areas

You can see that the Allan Hills area–up in the top left-hand corner of this map–is only about 140 miles/220 kilometers away from McMurdo “as the skua flies.” It’d be a bit longer if you had to find a route across the ice, supposing the sea ice was even intact enough to allow you to get to Ross Island.

In reality we won’t be too far away, just an hour’s ride in a Twin Otter, but it’ll be quite an experience regardless.

Caffeinating at McMurdo

September 24, 2009

Those of you who know me know that my love for coffee borders on obsession. My travelogues always seem to end up centered around it in one way or another–the espresso I got in a beautiful old shop in Alexandria, the seven-dollar iced coffee at the top of the Shanghai Tower, the caffè corretto that made nights in Venice that much more entertaining. I don’t see why this trip should be any different, so I thought I’d discuss the places I’ve found coffee around McMurdo.

The most basic coffee at McMurdo is found in the galley. The galley is a broad, open space, quite pleasant to hang out in and a nice place to catch up with friends; the food is of course free and generally surprisingly tasty given the limited ingredients with which the chefs have to work.

McMurdo's vital center.

The coffee is not what you’d call gourmet, but neither is it actively bad, and it certainly does the job.

Simple, economical brain fuel.

If you want to get a little more involved in the coffeemaking process, you can buy coffee beans at the store (roasted in my beautiful hometown of Anchorage–there are a lot of Alaskans working here, and clearly they have had some influence on the purchasing process.) If you have neglected to bring suitable equipment, you can also buy a French press, a thermos and a coffee mug or three.

One stop shopping for all your coffee needs.

Thus equipped, you can make coffee in your dorm or office with relative ease (provided you can find a source of hot water.) Or you can sponge off others who have their own coffeemaking setup; I’ve found if I’m nice to the IT guys in the science building, they will sometimes share their coffee. On no account, however, should you forget your camera in their office:

If you do, then you come back to a memory card full of this sort of thing. Thanks, Holly.

One of the best places to get coffee, of course, is the Coffeehouse. The Coffeehouse is a beautifully appointed building made from a couple of Quonset huts. It has Internet access (although not wifi–we are in Antarctica, after all) and it’s decorated with a variety of old polar exploration paraphernalia:

Just in case your coffee inspires you to go on a new expedition, you'll be set for gear.

A latte, with a hint of cinnamon. Also available for coffee enhancement: Bushmill's.

It’s really more like a combination coffeehouse and bar, with a variety of wines and liquors available. Regardless of what you choose to drink, it’s a pretty excellent place to go for a relaxing conversation with a fellow coffee-loving friend:

Rebecca enjoys her cappuccino. Stimulating intellectual conversation + stimulating beverage = win.

The best coffee, though, happens when your field safety people bring an espresso maker to the ice hut. Then Rich makes lattes:

The rigors of Antarctic camping.