(December 2, 2015)
Greetings from the team at McMurdo! We’ve been here for a week at this point, enough time to ensure I’m getting lost only 20% of the times I travel between buildings. This place is quite expansive really. I mentioned in the previous entry how logistically intensive the US Antarctic program is – McMurdo base is a testament to this. Slightly more than 100 buildings comprise “town” and almost 1,000 people call it home in the summer. Contrary to what I had envisioned (one massive building with a electronic disembodied female voice directing us from task to task a la hunger games), McMurdo base feels remarkably like, well, a town – except for most small towns don’t posses a helicopter pad, a fleet of 500 snowmobiles and designated dining area where every resident is fed 3 meals a day (sometimes 4 – it’s open 24/7 and has fruit loops.).
The size of town makes sense considering the volume and variety of research occurring on and off base. The scope of the science being conducted here extends far beyond glaciology and geology – this equates with a variety of scientists who happen to require a lot of support staff – around 700 to be exact. Envision a day in the field if you will. You awake in your tent, maintained and issued to you before your trip by the friendly gear folks. After your morning radio check in with the lovely Shelly at MacOpps (the station’s communication center) you whip up a pancake breakfast with a mix packed up by field center staff. After breakfast you hop on a snowmobile to head to your field site. Hm…it’s running a bit funny. Luckily, you’re able to pop open the hood and quickly diagnose the issue thanks to the lesson on field maintenance and service you just received from James at vehicle operations. I could go on and on but I think you may get the idea. Essentially each component of our day is in some way enabled by the team at McMurdo, and the science community is lucky to have such volumes of support from the all hardworking staff at here.
The Science though! My goodness this place houses a fascinating amalgamation of projects. Since arrival I’ve talked to teams analyzing lacustrine water columns in the dry valleys (a unique Antarctic region devoid of ice), a group evaluating the energy output of the female Weddell seal during each phase of reproduction and a NASA team monitoring for solar flares using a helium balloon (the size of 3 football fields!) circling the continent, snared in the circumpolar winds. (for more information on the last one check out this site – http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2010/dec/HQ_10-343_Balloon_Launch.html). Conversations over dinner have been informative to say the least.
We’ve finished packing up almost everything needed for our month in the field and have had a bit of time to enjoy the recreational opportunities on base. The weather has been so pleasant that we’ve been able to get outside nearly every day and enjoy the variety of hiking and ski trails. It’s highly encouraged here to get some fresh air from time to time, and we were all able to rent skis to traipse about on the ice. Soon enough though, we’ll be off to great outdoors full time! We’re slotted to leave for our field camp Thursday, though that’s optimistic. Transport to our field camp will be via plane, and more often than not the wacky weather down here impedes air travel. Alas, there is hope! Should the weather be ever in our favor we’ll have set up camp and settled in by Saturday.
It’s likely that the next time you’ll hear from us will be the transition between camps around ten days in – but at that point I should have accumulated a bit more science to discuss and with any luck some lovely photo’s to accompany it! All our best until then, and happiest of holidays!