Living in McMurdo

The biggest “town” in Antarctica is McMurdo Station where we stayed the past week to prepare our field work. Some people love it, others hate it, but there is no doubt that it is a very special place.

A view over McMurdo Station

A view over McMurdo Station.

When you arrive the first time in Antarctica you don’t know what to expect from a research station such as McMurdo. Everything is fascinating and all is new. But McMurdo is for sure an experience. The station can host up to 1300 people in summer (currently about 900), and whether you cook for the station or drill into ice somewhere in Antarctica, all the people here have some sort of mission for science. You meet a lot of different people which are all very excited about their work they can do here.

The people that run the station mostly live here for an entire season, which can be up to 6 months. That creates some need for a normal life, in a very abnormal place. Indeed, there is a lot of “normal” stuff going on around the station and after a couple of days it feels like living in a little town somewhere on a normal continent. There are gyms with a wide selection of classes to take, there are three different bars in town (even though they are all just next to each other), there are saunas, hiking trails, a hair dresser, a gift shop, a gear shop… You easily can loose track of all that is going on here.

Hiking group

An evening hike on one of the hiking trails around McMurdo with a part of our crew: Peter, Micheal, Ed, Joe (f.l.t.r.)

Observation tube

Micheal goes down the observation tube, one of the attractions of McMurdo. The tube goes through the sea-ice to observe the ocean underneath the ice.

underneath the sea ice

The beauty underneath the sea-ice found in the observation tube. Magical!

Cross-country skiing on sea-ice. It's pretty comfortably flat terrain, but the wind can be your enemy.

Cross-country skiing on sea-ice. Pretty fancy! Comfortable flat terrain, but the wind can be your enemy.

On the other hand there are the scientist that often use McMurdo station as the door to their field site (like us). For them McMurdo is the place to get all the training done required for the field work and to get all the equipment ready for the day they head out to the field. It is quite impressive how many different trainings the station offers, I probably have attended about 10 of them (Lab training, general safety training, field safety training, Dry Valleys special training, helicopter sling load training, ski-doo training, truck use training, communication training …).

Survival training

Training about how to use the survival kits.

Blue ice training

Training to set up tents on the blue ice.

The station also provides all the field gear we need and coordinates all the logistics (in our case helicopter flights) we need. That are the things we work on in between the trainings. Getting everything lined up within a week turned out to be a pretty intensive task. But also for us there was time to enjoy the normal life aspects of the station life and discover the beauty of the environment.

Field gear packing

Packing up the field gear.

Ice drill packing

Micheal is packing an ice drill.

Food packing

Everybody is packing up food for the camp.

A thing that easily gets forgotten after a few days in town is that all the waste that is produced here has to go off the continent. The international environmental treaty for Antarctica set up in the early 90’s requires each state to return everything they bring in, to bring out again to where it came from. The station puts an enormous effort in fulfilling this requirement. There is a whole department only for waste handling, there are bins for all the different waste all over the station and also all the waste we produce in the field has to go back to McMurdo and be processed by the waste department (even our toilet waste). The rule is “zero traces on Antarctica” and that requires a lot of effort from the visitors and organizers of the station. After each season a huge ice breaker visits McMurdo station to pick up all the waste that has been produced over the time.

Wastte bins.

Waste handling on McMurdo. Recycling is important.

In the next days we depart to Taylor Glacier, our field site, and we will leave McMurdo station behind us. We will return only for a few days when we are done with field work. Our crew and our equipment is ready to take off and we look forward to set the camp, but it has definitively been interesting in McMurdo.

Sun and ice

Sun and ice create the beautiful scenery around McMurdo.

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2 Comments on “Living in McMurdo

  1. Hey Bernie! Finally! Antarctica made you jump on cross country skis! What a success 😉 Hope it will be continued in Switzerland… The pictures are very interesting! Thanks for your blog and all the best with tenting on the blue ice for the next three weeks!

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