Saturday, September 29, 2012

And for a completely different view on working in Antarctica, try Genevieve's blog at

Miscellaneous from McMurdo Base

Here are some pictures I have taken since being here at McMurdo.  They are in no particular order or subject:
Scott's Discovery Hut and its relation to McMurdo Station (in the background).

The interior of Scott's Discovery Hut.

100 year-old hay for Scott's ponies.  Just inside the entry door  of the Discovery Hut.

Dog Biscuit box for Scott's dogs.  By treaty, no more dogs are allowed in Antarctica.

These are the (blurry) dog biscuits themselves.

Fur hats and gloves from one of the many groups that used this  hut for supplies over about a 20 year period.  These are probably seal skin.  No more seal hunting either, fortunately.

The center-pole roof design of the Scott Discovery Hut.  This structure was made in England, disassembled and reassembled in Antarctica.  It proved so cold that no one ever used it for living quarters - preferring the ships that were nearby.  The frost on the ceiling is probably from the breath of visitors.

Right outside the Discovery Hut is McMurdo Sound.  The Prince Albert Mountains are  across the Sound.

This is a pathway down to the Sound from the Hut.  It is strictly forbidden to walk out onto the ice as there are open leads and thin ice between the pressure ridges.  In order to venture onto the ice you must have a two-day Sea Ice training course.  This is the area where the Observation Tube is placed in the ice most summers.

Friday, September 28, 2012

End of Winfly

Winfly for 2012 is almost over - only three days until mainbody starts arriving and the population doubles in one day and triples in a few more. The small community of Winfly will go away and there will be lines in the galley for food, limited spaces at tables, vehicles driving on the road, strange faces... and for me a room-mate!  I somehow got lucky last month and got a room to myself.  So I sleep when I want, get up when I want, watch TV when I want, and don't have to worry about bothering a room-mate.  Oh, solitude how I will miss thee.

Over the past month my work center, Health and Safety, has gotten all our safety training accomplished. Training newly arriving employees here in Antarctica is new this year. Previously all training had been conducted in Denver before deployment but now people receive their training after they arrive in Antarctica. Its a different way to do things and has its problems and advantages.  We have to conduct more training sessions and that takes time, but the class sizes are smaller and that's better for learning.  Our winfly training was completed yesterday, so we now have three entire days until the mainbody arrives and we have to start all over with their training.

The biggest issue with training here in McMurdo is the lack of places to train people. Safety is not the only group training, so the battle for space is fierce. McMurdo, Antarctica is not exactly overrun with meeting rooms and that sometimes produces odd results.  My last training session was in the local bar, Gallaghers.  I used the large screen TV as my projection screen and my students sat around the tables.  Don't worry, it was during the day when the bar was closed.

I will be here another month until South Pole opens for the summer so there will be plenty to do between now and then.  Even some Occupational Health work - the reason I was sent here!  Of course the details of my work are confidential, but I feel comfortable saying it has been an interesting four weeks.

Temperature yesterday at McMurdo: -18F, windchill -68F
Temperature today: -6F, no wind.

Temperature at South Pole: -67F, windchill -106F

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dive Tending on McMurdo Sound

Yesterday I was able to Dive Tend. This basically means helping the McMurdo research divers with their gear, helping them get in and out of the water, and acting as a surface safety person in case of trouble.  The divers are doing research and collecting specimens from the bottom of McMurdo Sound which at this location if about 60-70 feet deep. The ice is about four feet thick at this time of year (spring).  The two divers in black are researchers and the diver in yellow is the safety diver.

 Above: Getting ready to dive.

There were three divers today.  This is the safety diver who goes along with the research divers.  He told us he has 34 years of experience diving at McMurdo.

In the water.

Tired, cold divers pulling up the safety lines and sample cores.

Luckily for me and my fellow dive tender, we got to stay in the nice warm hut while the divers were in the water.  When the divers come back to the surface they are not able to get out of the water with all their gear, so the dive tenders help by pulling the divers' SCBA tanks out of the water (about 48 lbs each), and then their dive weights (about 40 lbs).  The divers are then able to get out of the water on their own.

New: for a blog from the divers' perspective look to:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Visit to Scott's Hut

Yesterday I received a tour of Scott's Hut at Hut Point near McMurdo.  The Point is only about half a mile from the base and is an easy walk.  It was a beautiful day (5F and no wind) and a nice trip.  Because I was on an official tour I got to go inside the hut, which is normally closed to visitors.

The hut was built between 1901 and 1904 and was entirely prefabricated in England.  Unfortunately the hut proved too cold to live in and the men of Scott's expedition chose to sleep in the much warmer ship, which was anchored only about 50 yards away.  The hut was used mostly for supplies and equipment and daily living on and off for the next 25 years for several expeditions.

I neglected to get an exterior shot of the hut, which I will get soon and post here.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Ha, proof!  I once posted a discussion of egg-oiling at South Pole and how oiled eggs did not need to be refrigerated.  I also said I thought that in New Zealand eggs weren't refrigerated in supermarkets but were just set out on shelves... but I wasn't sure.  Now I have proof.  Two weeks ago in Christchurch I ran across this display of eggs for sale just sitting on the shelf in a supermarket .  Evidently it is a normal everyday thing to do.  See for yourself:

Friday, August 31, 2012

McMurdo, at least for now, is surprisingly beautiful.  Temperatures are mild (around 0F) and the winds are low.  The Sun comes up for a few hours a day and the surrounding area is bathed in a twilight glow.  Truthfully, McMurdo itself isn't very pretty, but the area around us is majestic.  We can look across McMurdo Sound (still frozen) to the Prince Albert Mountains and just next to us is Mt. Erebus, a 12,400 foot active volcano with a constant stream of vapor coming from its summit.

Later in the year when things warm up the snow on the ground melts and the dust kicked up by the infamous winds will be a particularly abrasive volcanic type deposited over centuries by that same majestic volcano.  But about the time that happens I will have been flown off to the South Pole where there is no dirt whatsoever!

My sleep patterns are still wrong, with me dropping off to sleep at 6 pm and sleeping until 2 am, but I hope that will normalize soon.  Work days are long here - nine hours a day, six days a week.  Tomorrow is Saturday, a work day, but then Sunday is a day off for everyone... my first since arriving.

More later, and I hope to get some pictures Sunday to post here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


After rushing around for three weeks to get everything ready to leave for Antarctica again, here I am... close but not there yet.  I am in Christchurch, NZ waiting for my flight to the ice tomorrow.  It was originally scheduled for today, Monday the 27th (NZ dates) but because of bad weather the flights have been backing up.  One flight has made it, but Flight 2 has been backed up so they took our spot today.  I am on Flight 3.  If Flight 2 makes it today and the weather holds up in McMurdo I will be leaving tomorrow.

Things are "same, same but different" now that Lockheed Martin has taken over the program.  No Denver training so everyone leaves for Christchurch from their home airport and there is half a day of training here in CHC, and half a day of getting fitted out at the Clothing Distribution Center.  There will be more training in McMurdo in special areas such as safety. 

There appear to be quite a few first-timers this season, at least in WinFly.  A show of hands revelaed about 1/3 first timers in our flight, and about half who have never participated in WinFly (including me).  It is very odd to be the experienced hand with the new people and they ask all kinds of questions, many of which I had during my first deployment.  

I suspect my next post will be from Antarctica unless the weather gets much worse and I have more days in Christchurch.

Friday, August 3, 2012

There and Back Again...

My 2012 Antarctic season is beginning.  I received notice yesterday that I was approved for WinFly.  Back to Antarctica!  WinFly is short for "winter fly-in" and brings personnel into McMurdo Station from Christchurch, NZ to begin relieving the winter-over staff (who have been there all winter).  WinFly happens prior to the main station opening, when the majority of summer residents will arrive.  WinFly usually consists of about 150 people who help get the station ready to receive its full compliment of 1,500 about a month later by doing things like opening dorms and labs, turning on water and heat, and getting the ice runways ready for the main season activities.

Although I expected to be approved for my Antarctic deployment it is never a done deal until you actually pass the PQ process, which I did last week.  Because it was not a sure thing I decided to wait until I knew for sure before posting anything here.  So...

I have 20 days to get ready to leave for Antarctica this year.  I fly out of my home airport in NC on August 23 and spend the next 30 hours in transit to Christchurch.  My route is RDU - DFW - LAX - SYD - CHC.  I then get fitted for ECW gear* and leave for McMurdo the next day - another 5 or 6 hours of flying time in a U.S.Air Force C-17.  The plan, weather permitting, is for me to arrive in McMurdo on August 27 (which is the 26th in the US).  Once I am in McMurdo I will work there for about six weeks and then fly to the South Pole around October 15 for their season opening.  I will work the remainder of the summer season at the cold, windy, high-altitude Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station - a difficult work location at the best of times.  But I prefer it to McMurdo for that very reason.  But I admit I do not have much McMurdo experience so maybe I will like it too.

Until I arrive and can start posting some pics, here is a real-time web cam of McMurdo Station.

You may notice it is always dark [edit - not true any more] because the Sun will not rise above the horizon at McMurdo until around August 15. My office is in the long blue building that goes from the center to about 2:45 in the picture.  The galley, barber shop, store, public access computers, and some dormitory rooms are also in that building.

*ECW gear = Extreme Cold Weather gear.  Usually handed out in Christchurch, NZ since it must be worn on the C-17 flight to the ice.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trans-Antarctic Mountain Range - 1

Enjoy some pictures of the Trans-Antarctic Range peaks and glaciers from the New York Air National Guard LC-130 windows.  Taken in early November, 2010, these photos were from the first flight out of Pole after the 2010 winter, and most of the 2010 winter-over crew were aboard and on their way to McMurdo and then to New Zealand.  As magnificent as these views are, it felt strange to be looking at these wide open spaces after being cooped up inside the Amundsen Scott Station for the previous ten months.