Posts tagged ‘McMurdo’

January 15, 2015

Sea Ice, Cape Evans and Scott’s Hut Photo Extravaganza!

In November my department had the opportunity to take McMurdo’s sea ice training course, teaching vehicle operators how to profile cracks in the sea ice to determine if the surface could withstand the weight of the vehicle and whether it was safe to cross. We’d identify a crack, shovel a trench across it, drill into the ice until sea water gushed out, and drop a special measuring tape into the water.



Sea Ice Drilling copy

There were Weddell seals along the road, not paying us any mind, dappled skin stretched across fatty heft, sighing and breathing across the frost—the holes they came out of a few feet away, littered with expelled bits of ice and blood.


Sea Ice Erebus


Our teacher was awesome, taking us to see things nearby, profiling cracks along the way. We entered an ice amphitheater, a brilliant curved elbow hollow, pocked shining walls and gargantuan feathered veins running up 80 feet. We placed our hands on icebergs’ solemn, glistening faces, being present with bodies much older than ourselves.

Sea Ice Big Blue Berg

Scott’s Hut on Cape Evans was a few miles away, a hundred year old building where the explorers spent three winters. Penguin carcasses, primitive ice cleat boots made of fur and canvas, crates of tea and potted meats. A darkroom full of tiny bottles, old spooky chemicals. A dog’s skeleton, still chained to the stable. It smelled like dust and hay and seal blubber, and written on one of the bunks in very light pencil, “Losses to date: Haywood, Mack, Smyth, Shak (?)” (I read later that Shackleton was missing at that point, his fate still uncertain).

It was an amazing day!







November 21, 2014

McMurdo 101

The US has three stations in Antarctica, and this year I’m working in McMurdo, the largest station (and formerly just a transitional jumping point to me when I was trying to get on a flight to the South Pole). It’s on Ross Island, and we fly here on a C-17, Airbus, or LC-130 from New Zealand.

hello from McMurdo

It’s a big station, around a thousand people in the height of summer (ie, now). There are dorms, admin buildings, a firehouse, power plant, water distillation plant, wharf, a store, three bars, three gyms, warehouses, and a ton of science (glaciology, marine biology, aeronomy and astrophysics, earth science, ocean and atmospheric studies). Three runways and a helicopter pad. And like a big old city there is above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines.


It was really cold.

It was pretty cold for a bit at the beginning of the season, though nothing compared to Pole. Lots of 50-knot winds, really poor visibility, and -30F.

It’s not too cold out right now, maybe 20F above zero. It smells like melt outside and there is milky mud water streaming down the hills toward the bay.

The photo below shows MacTown at 3am–the shadow across town, cast by Observation Hill, is all of the brief  “sunset” we get these days.

MacTown from Ob Hill

Building 211, McMurdo, Antarctica

This is my pretty little house…

...and my pretty little room...

…and my pretty little room…


A construction zone or a giant Lego set.

In town, it’s kind of like living in a construction zone, loaders and pickup trucks driving everywhere, gravel roads, exposed fuel pipes and spools of cable. But the magical thing about being here is all the stuff outside of town–hikes and preserved huts from the old Antarctic explorers and ice caves.

Stay tuned for some of the icier stuff, coming soon!

November 15, 2014


Somehow leaving makes you love it more.

Late fall in the midwest: cold wind on tired oak trees. Sunday night dinner, soup and wine and chocolate.

The last year has been a flurry of daily airports, new jobs, big decisions. Weddings. Funerals. Moving out again, pulling up the tiny roots. Finding myself back in the MSP airport, getting ready for 30+ hours of travel, deploying to Antarctica via New Zealand.

It’s good to be back.






Big Reds Walk to Iceberg

April 15, 2013

How to Get a Job in Antarctica 2013-2014: Links

Elissa moves 55-gallon drums of fuel with a tracked loader

Elissa moves 55-gallon drums of fuel with a tracked loader


I’ve been getting a lot of requests for info on how to get hired for a position in Antarctica this coming season, and I have great news for you: Bill Spindler has very nicely compiled a page of links with all the subcontractors.

Check out the whole post here:

If you’ve read anything at all about the hiring, you probably understand that Lockheed Martin is the main contractor, and there are a bunch of subcontractors for different departments. What that means is that there isn’t a streamlined collection of all jobs on one webpage; this is not necessarily a step down though. If you applied through Raytheon during the last contract, you will remember that their webpage kind of sucked. And by “kind of sucked,” I mean that it made you want to gouge out your eyes with a shovel.

I can’t speak to how the application process is on most of these sites: the one I applied through was pretty easy. If you’ve already applied, let us know how the experience was for you in the comments section.

Lynnette mapping 55 gallon drums

Lynnette maps 55-gallon drums on the berms


Trudy Lyn training us on the finer points of chainsaw safety

Trudy Lyn trains us on the finer points of chainsaw safety


Here is the abbreviated link list, with companies hiring for on-ice positions. If you have any confusion about what to do or how to apply after you get to a website or why you would even want to go to Antarctica in the first place, just back up a minute and go to Bill Spindler’s website.

Lockheed Martin: Program Management and Integration, Site Management, Functional Area Leadership, Technical Management & Administration (TM&A), Science and Technical Project Services (S&TPS), Information Technology and Communications (IT&C), Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) and Transportation and Logistics (T&L)

PAE: Infrastructure and Operations (I&O), Transportation and Logistics (T&L).

GHG: On-site Information Technology and Communications (IT&C).

University of Texas Medical Branch: Medical Services

Best Recycling: Waste

Gana-A’Yoo: Food Services, Housing & Janitorial Services, Retail & Postal Services.

April 12, 2013

Gorgeous Photos from the End of Summer: McMurdo, Antarctica

Deven is behind the lens again–check out these stunning photos from the end of the summer season and vessel offload.

The icebreaker vessel comes in at the end of the summer and is the main way cargo for all departments gets onto the continent. The lovely ship is full of all kinds of incoming cargo, from ramen noodles, beer and condoms to turbochargers and hydraulic hoses. The logistics folks (Cargo and Materials) are responsible for offloading and basically warehousing the cargo; at the beginning of the next summer, South Pole’s cargo gets packed up and sent in. This means the supply chain is really long: it takes a year or two for normal cargo to arrive at Pole.

stunning blue


cloud ice


floating ice


storm brewing behind icebreaker

You can see a storm front moving in on the horizon!



Here’s the vessel, loaded up with milvans.


frosty cables

After a storm, everything facing upwind was covered in ice.


frosty loaders

…including the loaders.


hut point

Hut Point Peninsula, just a short walk from MacTown.


mcm ice


mcm sound


nathaniel b palmer

The Nathaniel B. Palmer (a science vessel, I think) and Mount Erebus


pegasus ice runway

The Pegasus Ice Runway as seen from Arrival Heights


ship and scott hut

The rigging on the icebreaker, with Scott’s Hut (built in 1911). Deven says about this one: “Future past. I love the little Scott hut in the lower right. The things that place has seen!”


icebreaker and beautiful ice

The thing I love about these photos is how well they illustrate the different personalities of the sea ice: marbled and fractured and chunky and smooth.

If you want to see some amazing aurora photos from the same photographer, check out this post.

August 30, 2012

Night Sky: McMurdo, Antarctica

When it comes to night sky, it seems like South Pole generally has McMurdo beat. It’s so much darker, so much further South, and the aurora activity seems more common. However, every now and then, MacTown gets a beautiful show, and on top of it, the landscape there is so much more compelling. These pictures are from Deven Stross, who worked with me as a Materialsperson last summer at South Pole, and whose website you can visit here; keep in mind though, he’s still stuck at McMurdo with not-so-great internet, so most of the new photography isn’t showcased just yet.

These photos are from July, before the sun had begun to rise.

Time lapse photo with a human subject: standing still for 30 seconds at -26F.

Here is a more recent photo, where the sun is illuminating the nacreous clouds over Castle Rock. It’s just so beautiful, don’t you think?

July 19, 2012

Antarctica on Google Street View!

Sometimes I seriously love the internet. This is so cool:

Certain parts of Antarctica are now available for you to visit from the comfort of your own computer. Despite the dorky  “armchair explorer” title given by the articles about this, it is really a pretty neat thing. My favorite was Scott’s Hut, which is a 10 minute walk from McMurdo Town and full of polar explorer artifacts–I never got to go inside while I was there but was able to look around here! I had never heard of the World Wonders Project before this, but it’s really interesting; panoramic, navigable, street-level images of world heritage sites. Seriously. Go check it out:

This is the Dark Sector on street view, the off-station site that is home to many of the research projects including South Pole Telescope, Bicep and IceCube a little further down the road.

Here is the Ceremonial South Pole view:

If you’re not familiar with Google Street View, when you go to the actual page you can click on the white arrows to move yourself around within the photo’s span.

Read more about this here, here and here. Well.. the last link is a bit sketchy, due to its photo caption “Penguins in the South Pole.” Do your homework, people.

December 30, 2011

How to Get a Job in Antarctica in 2012

Alright, here we go.

Go to

Scroll down, and in the keyword field, type “NSF-ASC” and click on the Search button.

Jobs are being posted already, so get your resume ready and watch their site for new postings! We’ve heard that there may be a subcontractor called PAE for some or many of the positions–I’m not sure what kinds of jobs would be under that umbrella, but it sounds like mine might be.

Historically people who are on ice currently have had the ability to apply for jobs internally before postings were made available to everyone, but it seems like that might not be the case…so we’ll see how this goes. We are planning on applying for another season, though. I like this life.

Check out the discussion on the Antarctic Memories forum for a more in-depth analysis.

Here‘s another article about the transition.

Good luck!

December 23, 2011

And the New USAP Contractor is….

The wait to find out who we’ll be applying for jobs with next year is over, and the winning bidder is……

Lockheed Martin!

More information to come soon. I will be posting information on how to apply for a job with the US Antarctic Program next season just as soon as I find out myself.

We should have more details soon on what the turnover will be like. In reality, the season is over in six or seven weeks, and that doesn’t leave very much time for the new contractor to come in and make changes before the last plane leaves. It will be really interesting to see what happens; this is after a three-year extension to the Raytheon ten-year contract, something that could have happened before we even applied for jobs with the program in 2009.

We’ll keep you updated.

November 6, 2011

Flying from the Ross Ice Shelf to the South Pole

Flying in Antarctica tests your flexibility.

My original flight from McMurdo to South Pole was set for November first at 5 am (New Zealand time), moved forward to the 27th of October, cancelled because of weather delay, and moved to the next day, the 28th.

We took a Delta, a passenger vehicle that looks like a giant red metal ant, out to the ice runway in the morning, optimistic and excited at the weather reports for both takeoff and landing. There are two main types of delay here: weather and mechanical. We had all forgotten about mechanical delay.

Our group sat crammed in the Delta, feet going numb and legs getting stiff, blowing bubble gum bubbles that popped with a little puff of foggy breath, optimism waning with each update on the plane’s sorry status. Six hours later, tired and hungry and wishing we had landed three hours ago, we crunched and groaned and bounced along the sea ice in our Delta, returning to McMurdo for the night and hoping that there would still be beds for us despite the hundred-some people that had landed in a C-17 that day. I was disappointed but spent the evening with some girlfriends from Pole who bought me a birthday beer and told me that tomorrow was another day.

And it was. Now just three days before my scheduled flight and over a week after some other people’s, we skeptically dragged our bags back up the hill to cargo in the morning. We sat in the vehicle, comparing the food we had packed, learning a lesson from the hungry day before. Soggy sandwiches (for those who had been smart enough to pack them the day before our first scheduled flight), flat sat-upon doughnuts, granola, an avocado, or two pieces of french toast. As we progressed, we drove straight out to the runway, arrived directly at the plane (the first good sign) which was already fueled (the second good sign) and took off right on time (the third good sign).

The weather at Pole was flirting with the temperature limit that a C-130 can land in, so we crossed our fingers that our flight wouldn’t boomerang, which means exactly what it sounds like, and tried to not get too excited until we started our descent to Pole.

The flight was amazing. Laden with Emergency Cold Weather gear, boots and overalls and huge jackets and layers, you have to carefully plant each step to move about the plane and not step on or awkwardly straddle another passenger for too long. Through the tiny porthole window, and without any sense of how far up you are or how big the landscape below you is, you can see the terrain evolving below, pressing your head on the cold metal of the plane, the roaring drone of the props vibrating though your skull.

I said goodbye to dirt, watching the mountains melt into flat, blue ice like a lake surface. The face of the earth became flatter, whiter, flatter, whiter. You can see evidence of glacial flow, like seeing time pass, wrinkles and pockmarks and silky snowy spots like aged skin, shiny crusty ice that looks like you could stand on it until you shifted your weight and broke through, some marks like crop circles. Icy blue, as uninspired as that sounds. On we flew, over crevasses that look like dry, split fingertips in the winter, tiny and feathered on one side, gaping and deep and scary on the other side. I wondered if we were flying over any ski-in expeditions or what route they might take, and if they could hear us and whether they were waving at us from so far below.

(The following photos are by Marie McLane, who works cargo here at Pole and is a science tech in Greenland, and whose blog, AntarcticArctic, is pretty neat and has lots of photos and more info about flight Ops than mine so you should probably check it out.)






We landed, the engines getting louder like a volcano about to explode, and without being able to see and because of the rattle of the plane, it sometimes would seem like we had touched down even when we hadn’t. When we finally did land, I felt us turn off the skiway and onto the apron, and we droned along for what seemed like forever. The NY air national guard crew dropped the rear cargo door down, the plane yawning and flushing us with bright, bright fog and snow and steam and sucking the heat and moisture out of the plane all of a sudden. Out slid the cargo, disappearing immediately into the whiteness, and the crew closed up the door and the plane slowly crept forward and stopped.

Even though I knew what to expect this time, disembarking the aircraft was overwhelming. The ambient temperature was close to –60, the windchill nearly –90, the air was dry and the altitude was steep and the roar of the propellers just off to the side was immense and the sun was bright and here I was, returning to the South Pole, a little bit excited and pretty emotional and really really cold. I choked on my first few breaths. A crewmember held a line out from the door, to guide us and prevent passengers from getting thunderstruck and confused and turning left instead of right, walking straight into the props and losing their head, literally. All the way up to the nose of the plane came the ground crew, our friends and coworkers, putting out little guide markers showing where to walk to exit the apron.

There were cold but happy reunions with winterovers, jumps for joy and breathless hugs and frozen tears. There were new people as well as returnees with cameras and cold shutterfingers and a holy shit, I’m at the bottom of the planet stance, and, I would imagine, wide eyes behind their goggles and gaiters and balaclavas. Having arrived about a week before us, Daniel came to carry my bag for me, which seemed much heavier than it had been at sea level, and gave me a cold, wet, polarfleece little kiss.

It feels really good to be back.

More soon on the new job and life at the pole. If you’re missing blog posts and want to get more updates right to your inbox, you can subscribe for free to email or rss!


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