Friday, December 10, 2010 — McMurdo Station, 9:30 p.m.
Fri, 12/10/2010 - 9:30pm
It has been an interesting day, but a little anticlimactic after being at the South Pole yesterday. We started the day with a three-hour tour of the Crary Science Laboratory. It is a marvelous facility built on the side of a hill with several different levels. There is some amazing science going on there, and perhaps equally as important, it is the support for the science that goes on out at the field stations. Things like paleobotony, where they study the fossilized remains of plant life that existed in Antarctica, to the study of the sea life that lives under the ice. A tremendous support structure and a group that somehow manages to provide the needed space, resources and personnel to accomplish the goals and objectives of the science. Many of the people who make all of this happen come back year after year and are a truly dedicated group of individuals. Some come for the summer, arriving in September and leaving in February, and others “winter over,” staying all year through the dark winter.
After the tour of the science labs, we heard a briefing on the DOD operations in support of USAP. The U.S. created a program known as “Operation Deep Freeze” that has provided a continuous presence in Antarctica since 1955, under the command of the commander of Support Forces, Antarctica. The logistics involved in supporting an installation of 1,000 at McMurdo or 200 at the Pole is incredible. Everything has to be flown in or come by ship, and the advance planning required is hard to comprehend. One of Georgia Tech’s faculty members, Regents’ Professor Don Ratliff, has been engaged in the Polar Program, and from the perspective of the folks here was enormously helpful.
From there we went to visit the operational facilities such as weather, aircraft and McMurdo operations and communication. There is a whole infrastructure here designed to support the research: potable water, wastewater treatment (which we learned more about than perhaps we cared to), power generation and IT. It is an enormous undertaking and one that does not receive near the credit it deserves. The people who make it run so efficiently are a dedicated group who plan well ahead for almost any contingency: unless they have them on hand, spare parts are at least a five-hour plane flight away. There is a move toward more sustainable power and the three wind turbines installed at McMurdo Station last year can, on a good day, provide up to 1,000 of the 2,000-kilowatt average for the station.
We had a little free time and three of us decided to climb Observation Hill, a high peak that overlooks McMurdo and the area surrounding it. After a 40-minute climb we arrived at the top to find a large wooden cross erected in honor of British Royal Naval officer and explorer Robert F. Scott and his four companions who all perished on their return from the South Pole in 1912. It was a bit emotional as we thought of all that they had endured on their journey to the pole and back (almost). The view is absolutely spectacular – it is 360 degrees of mountains, ice and crisp clean air, simply breathtaking.
After descending (which was more difficult than the climb up due to the loose rocks and gravel), we got cleaned up and went to a reception held in our honor. It was a nice event that gave us a chance to meet with many of the folks that work at McMurdo and to talk with some of the scientists and hear their thoughts firsthand.
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