Field Update: Nov. 30, 2010

The helicopter trip yesterday provided an aerial view of McMurdo Station, but perhaps not in enough detail for readers to understand the scope of what goes on here. I’ve pulled together some additional images of town, from west to east, to give you a quick overview of the layout of this installation on the southern tip of the Hut Point Peninsula. It’s changed a lot since we first arrived in early October and now most of the snow is gone and the volcanic soil is blowing around town when the wind picks up speed. The road to the ice pier and Discovery Hut goes off to the left, while the access road to the sea ice transition zone runs downhill past the fuel tanks, dormitories, water distillation (reverse osmosis) and the waste water treatment plants.

On the other side of the three-story brown dormitories lies Derelict Junction, a big parking lot in the middle of town that’s uphill from the Chapel of the Snows, and to the left of the Coffee House, the Gerbil Gym (treadmills, etc.) Southern Exposure, and Building 155, the big blue building where the main cafeteria, McMurdo store, ATM’s, the TV station, the housing, recreation, and other administrative offices, and more berthing space are all located.

The building with the communications antennas on the roof is MacOps, the center for air traffic control, weather, and field operations. This is where people monitor the VHF repeaters, HF radio, and Iridium satellite communications around the clock. These folks act as the primary point of contact and information source for everyone traveling to and from McMurdo. They talk to the field camps, pass on messages, and coordinate search and rescue (SAR) activities, when required.

The Medical Dispensary, a red-roofed building just across from Building 155, has a doctor, physical therapist, and other emergency medical personnel. They ensure that people remain healthy and treat them if they become injured or ill. The Dispensary is located next to Gallagher’s Pub, one of the three social clubs in McMurdo, the others being Southern Exposure and the Coffee House. The Firehouse is located next to the Dispensary on the uphill side. In addition to responding to various types of emergency situations, the Firehouse acts as the primary point of contact for recreational travelers going outside of town. Across the street from the Firehouse is the FEMC trade shop, where you can find plumbers and electricians, and lots of supplies and spare parts.

A series of warehouses and work centers, including the VMF (Vehicle Maintenance Facility, or Heavy Shop) are located uphill from Building 155. There are also a series of storage areas with pallets and containers organizing a wide range of raw materials, cargo, supplies and equipment.

Across the road to the right of MacOps, and downslope of Building 155, is the Crary Science and Engineering Center (CSEC), or Crary Laboratory, a complex of laboratories, offices, and a library, connected by a sloping ramp down the middle that connects the three levels. This is the center of science activity on station for different science groups, or “events”, that are designated by codes such as G-049-M, meaning geological (G-) science event number 049, McMurdo (M) Station, or more commonly as the ANDRILL Coulman High Project. Science cargo is delivered to various locations around the Crary Lab with each box or carton having specific markings designating the science event number and point of contact.

Next to the FEMC and across from Crary Lab is the Science Support Center (SSC). The SSC combines the MEC (Mechanical Equipment Center), which provides training for field equipment like generators, motors, ice drills, snow machines, and vehicles, and the FSTP (Field Safety Training Program), which provides basic field training (Happy Camper snow school) as well as advanced training, like glacier travel and crevasse rescue; they also provide mountaineering guides and other support for field parties. The Chalet, with international flags flying, is the administrative center of the U.S. Antarctic Program, where senior NSF and RPSC representatives are located.

Uphill from the Chalet are some NSF dormitories and the Berg Field Center (BFC), which issues field equipment (tents, sleeping bags, etc.), clothing resupply (repairs to ECW gear), and food for science groups going into the field from McMurdo. Further up the hill is the Carpentry Shop, which is part of science construction, along with the FEMC trade shop. They fabricate anything that is needed for the various science events or for the town proper. Finally, there are the fuel tanks that fill the pass above McMurdo and are scattered around the periphery, providing the means to power vehicles, aircraft, buildings, and all of the facilities that make up McMurdo Station.

Over the course of the season we have interacted with many of the work centers around town to accomplish our science mission. We’ve discovered the diverse, dedicated, and talented workforce that exists in McMurdo Station – from all walks of life. It’s quite remarkable to learn what goes on in each of these buildings and to understand how all of these people working together provide the services to keep McMurdo Station operating.

But we don’t live in isolation – the road goes up through the pass and over the hill to Scott Base with the distinctive green buildings that mark the operational and logistics hub for the New Zealand Antarctic Program.

The ANDRILL Coulman High Project is a highly collaborative effort between the U.S. and N.Z. Antarctic Programs and we depend on each other for our mutual success. The cooperation between Scott Base and McMurdo Station has made everything we’re doing this year possible. We deeply appreciate the help we’ve received from both Antarctica New Zealand and Raytheon Polar Services Company employees and staff and our many colleagues at Scott Base and McMurdo Station. Here’s to all of you!!

Back at Coulman High Site #2, the CTD and camera deployments and gravity coring are ongoing and the second oceanographic mooring is being prepared for deployment through the ice shelf. These activities are similar to what we’ve already done at Site #1, but we have the benefit of the lessons learned from the first deployments. I’ll be heading back out to camp on December 9th, but for now I’m catching up on email and running errands in support of the team out in the field. All is well and we’re still ahead of schedule to accomplish all of our tasks this year, with nearly half of our time gone. Gary Wilson, Daniel Jones (NZ) and Christopher Stubbs (US) have all arrived in Antarctica and are preparing to fly to Coulman High to conduct a gravity survey later in the week. The next helo is scheduled for December 3rd, so they have training to do before they deploy – and forms to sign.

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