I would like to introduce you to McMurdo Station in another short series of posts. This fascinating town of pop. 1200 (summertime) deserves to be discussed on its own, as it is the hub for all American (and lots of foreign) Antarctic activity, and full of interesting history and people.
McMurdo Station (which is the largest base on Antarctica and belongs to the US) is located on Ross Island.
The big white building in the middle of the picture is building 155 – the Galley – where I am staying (there are dorms). The Galley also houses the cafeteria, the convenience/souvenir shop, offices, and a computer room. It is quite comfortable and has everything you need so you never really have to leave that building. But of course, there are plenty of scientists (the base is run by NSF, after all) and so the scientists exclusively get a wonderful building – the Crary Science and Technology Center. A modern building filled with individual laboratories and all the support and supplies the scientists need. There is a large and very helpful scientific support staff that works for and in conjunction with the science teams as well. Crary is the large grayish building above and to the right of the Galley.
Here are some pictures I took today after climbing the historic Observation Hill (“Ob Hill” if you’re in the know)…
Climbing to the top of Ob Hill took about 40 mins (for me, because I am not a mountain goat). It gave a wonderful view of the mountains all around, the frozen Ross Sea with dozens of little black bumps (Weddell seals) off in the distance, and the incoming Russian icebreaker, as well as what was very likely the BBC helicopter carrying one of my personal heros, Sir Dave Attenborough. I read on the Helo schedule that he would be flying back from Cape Evans around 2 pm. So maybe I’ll get to see him at dinnertime! Either way, I am demanding that we be back (from field camp) at McMurdo by Wednesday evening, which is when he will be giving a lecture on Birds of Paradise (my favorite birds, nonetheless) here in Crary!
Sir Attenborough is down here filming a series of seven episodes called The Frozen Planet (here and then at the North Pole). But I’ll stop obsessing over that. Let’s just hope I get to see him – its such a small area, its inevitable! 🙂
Ob Hill is a historic site for McMurdo. It’s a 720 ft hill with a cross on top, erected in 1912 to commemorate the deaths of Scott’s party in their search to be the first humans to reach the South Pole (which failed as they were just beat by the Norwegians). They reached the Pole, but perished on the way back – 11 miles from a food cache. They knew they were doomed, and Scott prepared a letter:
We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last […] Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.
That story is amazing in its own right, and I hope to cover some of these amazing explorers in a separate post, soon.
You see, trying to avoid going off on tangents is impossible when discussing McMurdo, as it is rich in history concerning the human exploration of Antarctica. McMurdo Station is named after the sound it is built near, McMurdo Sound, which in turn is named after the captain of the ship HMS Terror that first charted the area in 1841. About 3 miles away is New Zealand’s Antarctic station – Scott Base, which is a small conglomeration of green buildings.
Mt. Erebus (named after James Clark Ross’ ship, also aptly the primordial Greek god of darkness) is clearly visible from the top. This is the southernmost active volcano on the planet, and part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. It’s summit elevation is 12, 448 ft. It’s been recently active since 1972, and has one of the few long-lasting lava lakes on Earth. You can see the steam coming out from the very top of the caldera. In 1979 one of the few then-available commercial flights to Antarctica (a sightseeing fly-over) crashed into the side of the volcano during white-out conditions, killing all 257 people aboard. This flight service was discontinued after the flight, and there is now a general no-fly zone around the area for helicopters.
There are a plethora of studies being done on Mt. Erebus through the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory.
I will cover the Crary Science Center, since this is such an important building not only for our research team, but for all USAP scientists, for McMurdo, and for Antarctica in general.
Also today, we were given a tour of the Crary Center – not that the others needed it, but it was informative for me, and again showed how eager the support staff are to help the scientists.
Well, that’s it for now…tomorrow is Field Camp/Antarctic Survival/Snow School – which starts tomorrow at 8:30 am and goes through the night (we must learn how to build our own igloo and sleep the night in it) and should be done Wednesday at 5:30 pm. Should be lots of fun, with learning how to find your way in a whiteout, rope a glacier, build an igloo, etc. I will come back with lots of pictures and a post to share my newly gained knowledge!