Being in McMurdo

Submitted by anelles on Wed, 11/11/2015 - 14:59


View from Scott's point at McMurdo station.

I have trouble counting how many days I have been here already. That is partly due to the fact that it never gets dark. Proof? They have a sun dial with 24 hours on it. I would show you the picture now, but unfortunately my "smartphone" is totally useless down here -- no network, no wifi -- and as it turns out, Apple does not feel like connecting without issues to an Android phone via Bluetooth. Super handy, so I will need to wait until we find the USB cable, somewhere in our 200 boxes. While we are at it: Not that I have ever been a big fan of the facebook website, but only once you realize how much you need to download before you can see anything, you really start to despise it. For me, it is now only a minor annoyance, since I will be going back to places with better internet. But it must really suck for people who deal with this every day ... so, whoever wanted to reach me via Facebook, I might answer in December.

Anyway, where was I, before I got sidetracked. The fact that I don't remember how many days it has been. I probably is also related to the fact that we are doing so many things at the same time. You go get signed in. You get a schedule:

And then the real challenge starts. Getting to talk to the people responsible for setting up our field camp and organizing our food, learning how to use the communications equipment (did you know that we have a total flat rate using Iridium satellite phones? The only problem apparently are flat voices and a long delay, but hey, you never know, who you would like to call from the Ross Ice Shelf, right?), test our own equipment and too many more things. So essentially, you run around McMurdo like a crazy chicken from left to right. Thankfully, Corey is in charge of the "important" binder, with all the information, so I just have to run behind him. Mostly ...

But the whole meeting and training schedule also has its perks. We run into a lot of colleagues from other fields. For example, our news friends from C-525. You wonder what this number is? In McMurdo, you will always identify by your group number. We are A-127. And our friends from glaciology are C-525. Unfortunately, we are not going to the same spot on the ice, but we will attempt to contact each other by HF radio (the radio with the 10 meter antenna). I will let you know, how this goes.

We also meet a group that is mapping out the Ross ice-shelf. Sounds familiar? Yes, ARIANNA is being built on the Ross ice-shelf and we make certain assumptions about the ice. So, it is really great to hear that there is a group that will make very detailed maps of ice depth, structure and reflectivity. And we are really lucky, because the ARIANNA site will be nicely covered by two flights of the Rosetta mission (http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1443534&HistoricalAward…). We will stay excited and in contact.


The flight path of Rosetta and the ARIANNA site. Thanks to Kirsty, we are now fully aware of all the details.

And as an extra bonus. They are using a radar that is directly in our frequency band. So, they might be the noise source that we have seen in our data. Since they are so nicely in one frequency band, their signals are not a problem for ARIANNA, but it is always good to know, where disturbances come from.

And then there was of course the one training everyone loves that kept us busy. "Deep field shakedown" or formerly known as "Happy Camper". You get to set up your tent and a real camp and try a night of sleep out in the cold. And it was cold. But pretty, to be fair. This one night only in the field, tells me that everyone who can sleep in a warm room with a tick mattress at night, take a hot shower in the morning and can use a real toilet, has not had the real experience. So all the IceCubers (our fellow neutrino searchers https://icecube.wisc.edu/) sleeping in warm and cozy south pole station, are totally not as brave as they want us believing.

You think that setting up a tent and making a little fire is easy business. Try is with wearing all the clothes you normally bring for a week at the same time (this is how big and cozy our "big red" parkas are), with huge gloves in cold wind. And, the tents cannot be secured with little metal stakes (like you are used to), but you need "deadmen". No worries, Corey and Chris are still alive. Deadmen are little bamboo sticks that you tie your tent lines around and put horizontally in a hole that you dug before. So, for every tent about 12 holes. Fun! Also, it is recommended to built a snow wall around the tents to slow down the wind. More digging and carrying. At the end of the day, you are fairly exhausted and a night in a cold tent is still ahead. Anyway, like I said, we are all still alive and we did have some fun as well:


Chris doing an excellent job, breaking down the snow-wall we had so meticulously built.

Part of the fun is of course the whole bathroom business. Yes, you all have been wondering about this, I know. There is such a thing as a pee bottle. And you do with it what you think you do. Due to the Antarctic treaty, you are not allowed to leave anything behind that can be retrieved with a decent amount of effort. So, it turns out they don't want us to leave the water that we have melted from the snow that went once through our bodies. And this means you have to pee in a bottle. Where this sounds not that difficult for men, women have more fun with this. Try googling "freshette". That is what we have been issued with. And it is so much fun, when you are wearing 5 layers. But, I guess it is better than a cold behind.

When it comes to free time here, you really need to claim it. For example, Saturday is bar night. Don't get too excited. There are two bars. I would summarise them with one dancing bar and one playing bar. The dancing bar had burlesque night and that did not help the fact that there is in general a lot of testosteron running around. If you ever had trouble getting hit on as a woman, I recommend McMurdo for a night. If you are not that into it, I recommend friends or colleagues that are willing to work as an get-away excuse. There is even a sign up in the main corridor informing you that the current population in McMurdo is 27% female. You figure out the rest ...

Also on free time, you can go sightseeing. Sightseeing? Yes. McMurdo has been built where Scott (you know, the guy that came second to South Pole after Amudsen and died on the way back) has built his hut. It turns out, more then 100 years later you can vist and it still is very much intact. Unfortunately, you have to be eiter in Scott Base (NZ) or in McMurdo (US) to visit and it is only open during a couple of days. But we have made it! If you are not a scientist and have no chance of ever getting here, become a member of Congress or something like that. Then you get to go. And they will open up everything for you. For all others, you will have to work with my photos.


Old supplies inside Scott's hut. They are still the same, nothing has been added.


A Weddell seal (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weddell_seal) hanging out near Scott's hut.

And then there is the "OB tube". A tube into the sea-ice that allows you to look at the bottom of the sea ice. Super beautiful with amazing crystal structures, but unfortunately not very photogenic.

So, it sounds like we have been here for a while now. We are scheduled to leave on a helicopter tomorrow. All our gear is packed and we are ready to go. Let's see how the weather is cooperating and more from me in a bit.

PS: One of our fellow scientists is writing a blog for nature. If you take a good look at his pictures, you will find Chris, Corey and myself in the C-17 ;)
http://www.nature.com/news/antarctic-journal-halfway-around-the-world-i…