McMurdo Station, or town, or Mactown for those in the know, is the main U.S. base in Antarctica. The station was established in 1955, built on the volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island. It is the southern most solid ground accessible by ship, and later in the summer, ice breaker ships will come into the harbor to drop off and pick up McMurdo cargo. For now, the harbor is still covered in sea ice. It’s a pretty incredible sight. As we walk around the station and look out, the vast, white sea ice seems to stretch on forever.
The sea ice is still thick enough for us to safely walk, ski, and drive across it right now. We had our first sea ice excursion on our second day at the station, when we headed down to the ice to check out the “Ob Tube.” The ob tube is a 20-foot deep observation tube that goes down below the sea ice, allowing people to climb in and see what’s going on in the waters below. The tube is about 3 feet wide, so only one person can fit at a time. One-by-one we took turns climbing down the ladder to the glass walls below, and saw beautiful sea ice structures, schools of fish, and other underwater creatures. A few of us heard some noises that sounded like they might have been seals or whales off in the distance, but unfortunately, no one had a sighting.
That evening, we walked over to Scott Base, the Kiwi Station about 1.5 miles away from McMurdo. A friend of Rachel’s is working there right now and invited us over for dinner. Our dinner conversation quickly turned to ice microstructure and crystal fabrics. Nothing like a pasta and pole figures combo to make a great meal! (Pole figures are diagrams we use to display orientations of ice crystals.)
Interacting with other scientists is one of the awesome things about being at McMurdo. Since we’ve gotten to the ice we’ve gotten to talk to teams from all over the U.S. who are studying everything from paleotemperatures in South Pole ice cores, ancient moraines in the Transantarctic Mountain Range, DNA of microbes in the Dry Valley, and volcanism at Mt. Erebus. There are science lectures every week, where a team can volunteer to give a presentation on the work they are doing for anyone in town who wants to go. Everyone is excited about their own work, and curious about each other’s, so a dinner conversation about the mechanics of logging a borehole or the lava of Mt. Erebus is typical.
Amidst all the exploration and socializing, the VeLveT Ice team has been busy prepping for our departure to the field. In a few days, depending on weather and flight availability, we hope to be flying out to WAIS Divide, the “deep field.” We have a lot to organize and pack before we go. Today we spent the morning in the Science Cargo Center, packing pallets and boxes with personal and team gear. Each of us is given a sleeping kit, which includes:
-Another sleeping pad (the more insulation between you and the snow the better!!)
-Crazy Creek (a camp chair)
The rest of the group gear includes all our radar and borehole logging instruments as well as tents, emergency survival kits, and other miscellaneous camp supplies. We finished most of our cargo packing this morning, but have a bit more to finish up in the next few days ---snow machine training for example! But for tonight we’re done, and heading to yoga in the fitness center!