Two years ago I took these photos. The top in this series is a 4 mile long iceberg in the Ross Sea; the middle, a photo from the helicopter of frozen pools and volcanic dirt; the last photo a super-close view of the icy surface of Lake Hoare. I’ve been missing this beautiful continent a lot lately and thinking about how important the next few years of policy will be in preserving it.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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: http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/worldwonders/.