In and around town

McMurdo Station is the largest settlement in Antarctica.  It is like a tourist town in that its population swells in summer, but the summertime visitors are scientists, not tourists.  As the research season gets into full swing the population can grow to over 1000, and right now it is 910.  Some scientists are just passing through town on their way to Deep Field Camps.  Some stay longer.  Our group will be here about 5 weeks.

View of town from the sea ice.

In some ways it resembles any small town — it has a fire station

An ambulance in the firehouse. Fire is a major concern due to the extreme dryness and strong winds.

, a medical clinic, a chapel,


two bars, a coffeehouse,

The Coffeehouse serves coffee in the morning and becomes a wine bar/movie theater at night.

a fitness center, a library, a power plant, a sewage plant, and so on.  There is even an ATM (cash machine), although there isn’t much to spend money on.

The architecture is strictly practical — most buildings have metal siding and shed roofs, although some are “quonset hut” style.  The only building that is architecturally distinctive is the Crary Lab (mostly because it steps down a steep hill), and it’s not going to win any awards for exterior aesthetics. Most buildings are labelled with nothing but a number, which is pretty confusing at first, but it doesn’t take long to become familiar with every building you are likely to ever go into.

The busiest building in town is Building 155.  Perhaps because of its importance, it is painted bright blue, which makes it stand out from the dull earth tones of all other buildings.  Building 155 is the home of most administrative offices and the galley, where everyone eats all of their meals.  The galley serves 4 meals per day — breakfast, lunch, dinner on a normal schedule, plus an additional meal called “midrats” (midnight rations) for people on the night shift.  In fact, at 7 am most people are eating breakfast, but people on the nightshift are eating dinner.  Similarly at dinnertime, the night shift people are eating breakfast.  One is not supposed to eat the breakfast food at dinnertime unless one is on midrats.

By the way, the food is actually pretty decent — I especially like the fresh baked bread. There is a good variety at lunch and dinner and it is possible to assemble a reasonably healthy meal and, at least for now (while there are still frequent flights to and from New Zealand), fresh fruit and vegetables are available.

There is not a lot of snow in town as we head into summer.  Ross Island is a collection of volcanoes, and the ground in town is red-brown volcanic rock.  As long as it remains cold (say below 15 degrees F), the rock stays frozen in place.  When we have warm weather (as we have had lately), the snow melts and the ground becomes a muddy mess.  There is no asphalt or concrete pavement.

Arriving at McMurdo Station

Our ground transportation meets us at Pegasus Airfield.  Top speed: 25 mph.
Despite Ivan’s impressive size from the outside, it carries about the same number of people (56) as a city bus.
Finally we reach our destination after almost an hour.  Vehicles must travel slowly to reduce damage to the ice road so that it can be used for as long as possible into the summer.

Upon arriving in McMurdo Station, we immediately attend our first orientation meeting.  It is the first of many meetings to educate us on how to live in the potentially dangerous yet fragile environment of Antarctica.

We then pick up our baggage and find our rooms.  Everybody shares a room, and two neighboring rooms share a bathroom.  There is some shuffling of roommates and I end up rooming with one of my co-workers on the ROSETTA project.

One of the dormitory buildings.

Flight to Antarctica

Inside the C17 — big enough to hold a helicopter, plus 55 passengers, and supplies for McMurdo. I ended up in the front middle seat.  Most people sat along the walls.
The flight tracker was a cardboard cutout of a plane that a crew member moved on a map from time to time.
There aren’t many windows on a C17. As we neared Antarctica, I snapped a picture of the sea ice through the tiny window next to the door.
The crew invited everyone for a brief visit to the flight deck. The view was dazzling — both in intensity and beauty.
My first view of the glaciers and icefields of Antarctica from the flight deck.
On the ground at Pegasus Field, an ice runway about 19 miles from McMurdo Station. Planes with wheels can land here until the surface softens too much in the summer sunlight.

ROSETTA-Ice team leaves for McMurdo

Scott Springer (ESR) is leaving Christchurch NZ to take a US Air National Guard flight to McMurdo Station, Antarctica with the ROSETTA-Ice 2016 field team.