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Old Posted Jan 15, 2020, 4:02 AM
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Antarctic "Cities": McMurdo and South Pole

I just recently got back from spending a few weeks at the South Pole (and a few days in transit at McMurdo). I was there to do maintenance on one of my particle astrophysics experiments. This was my first time at the South Pole (my second time in Antarctica; I was at McMurdo for about a month about three years ago. I know there is at least one more seasoned Antarctic visitor on this board, so he is welcome to make an appearance and heckle me .

I will slowly be posting some pictures here (as I started doing this, I quickly realized I don't have the time/energy to do it all in one go. And yes, there are technically no cities here. But McMurdo is the largest settlement in Antarctica and South Pole may be the second largest? (not sure if any of the Argentine or Aussie bases are bigger...).



I'll start with some pictures from McMurdo on my way out there.

First an obligatory picture of Mt. Erebus. I had just just landed at Phoenix Field on a Kiwi Herc. Usually we fly with the Air National Guard, but sometimes you end up on a Kiwi or even Italian plane (The Kiwi base a mile and a half from McMurdo. The Italian base is not nearly as close, but relatively nearby). It was an 8 hour flight from Christchurch in a very crowded C-130 (knee-to-knee).




Our ride got stuck in the soft snow and had to get pulled out. This is the lovely Kress... a very awkward vehicle tugged by a tractor. It's quite roomy inside but the windows are too high up. I've ridden it many times (usually from McMurdo to the long duration balloon base where I commuted to every day when I was there three years ago).



Here is a noit great picture of McMurdo from Hut Point. The hut in the foreground was built by Scott during the Discovery expedition (I think it was built in 1903). The hut used during the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition was at nearby Cape Evans, I believe. I have some better pictures from my way back (and also from three years ago...) that I will likely post later!



And here's another (a bit later, weather changes fast!):


I was at McMurdo for less than 24 hours on my way to Pole. Here is a picture from Willy Field right before I board my LC-130.

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Old Posted Jan 15, 2020, 4:09 AM
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Fascinating! Looking forward to the tour
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Old Posted Jan 15, 2020, 4:52 AM
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Wow, now everything has been done! An Antarctica photo tour!

Not to detract from the pictures, which I am looking forward to, but what is the most exotic settlement on the planet that has not been shown now(/soon)? If we are getting pictures of the South Pole, what could be more exotic? Pitcairn Island? Tristan de Cunha?
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Old Posted Jan 15, 2020, 5:02 AM
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I don't think this is the first time Antarctica has been highlighted here. I've certainly posted photos of it.

I served as the "winter-over" doctor at McMurdo in 1976-77 and during the austral summer flew around to several bases including the Pole Station when the dome structure was actually in use as the main structure there. We also visited the Russian (the Soviet) base at Vostok which was truly primitive.

I took lots of pictures back then but all on Kodachrome slides that haven't been digitized.

This image of Vostok was from 1980 but it looked pretty much the same in 1977:


https://adam.antarcticanz.govt.nz/nodes/view/5957

In case you have no idea where Vostok is, this where: Pretty much in the middle of nowhere even by Antarctic standards (though actually on the "polar plateau" at an altitude of around 9000 ft as I recall):


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vostok_Station

This was the entrance to the Pole "dome" in 1975, 2 years before I was there but looking identical:


https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_rep.../station75.jsp

The dome itself just served the purpose of keeping snow from covering the actual living/working units (most of Antarctica is a desert in temrs of snow falling down but a huge amount blows around and can easily cover manmade structures.

This is inside, actually taken the year I was there:


https://adam.antarcticanz.govt.nz/nodes/view/5934

Finally, this was McMurdo in the 1970s (I drew a circle around the medical building where I lived and worked):


https://www.southpolestation.com/obhill/hillview.html

Looking forward to what over 40 years has done.

Last edited by Pedestrian; Jan 15, 2020 at 5:25 AM.
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Old Posted Jan 15, 2020, 3:43 PM
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fascinating -- thank you both -- yes looking forward to more !
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Old Posted Jan 15, 2020, 5:11 PM
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well this is something different.

extremely interesting!

can't wait to see more.
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2020, 8:51 AM
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This is really cool!

It’s interesting to me that the buildings aren’t all interconnected. It just seems like it’d make more sense in that climate.
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2020, 8:09 PM
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Originally Posted by DetroitSky View Post
This is really cool!

It’s interesting to me that the buildings aren’t all interconnected. It just seems like it’d make more sense in that climate.
As noted, the original South Pole Station pretty much had all the inhabited spaces contained under the geodesic dome and thus out of the weather. More recently, additional spaces have been constructed that I assume we'll see when SIGSEGV posts them.

I will mention that in other places on the continent the US did build temporary bases and stations that had small, connected spaces that were gradually covered with snow, buried and crushed. That fact and the completion of the work being done in those locations led to their abandonment.

McMurdo is a sizeable place. In summer, when I was there, there were over 1000 people working in summer. There may be more now. There were various necessary facilities. Originally, there was a nuclear power plant which was later shut down--after that, power was from diesel generators. Up on a hill there is a seawater distillation plant to produce water for the station. There is a chapel, a firehouse, the medical building which has a small inpatient ward and operating facilties, a large dining facility etc etc. It's a genuine town, built not on ice and snow (like Pole Station and other interior stations are) but on volcanic soil and rock which is more or less permanently frozen. Digging a hole is not so easy.

But the climate may not be what you think. The highest temperature I recall--in mid austral summer--was 41 degrees F and a small gully running through town, generally called "the Antarctic River" actually ran with liquid water. At McMurdo, the sun does not set for about 3 months in summer and does not rise for about 3 months in winter (though there is a glow around the horizon for much of this that provides considerable light). The rest of the time the sun does rise and set with the night getting gradually shorter in Spring, then gradually longer in autumn. Much of the time in spring, summer and autumn, the weather is certainly cold but not so much colder than a cold winter day in North America and the sun can shine quite brightly and clearly and outdoor activity can be quite pleasant when you get acclimated.

Then there are intermittent storms--known when I was there as "Herbies"--in which the wind howls and snow blows horizontally and vision can be reduced to a foot or two. Typically, these can last 12-36 hours and when they occur, but really only when they occur, tunnel connections between buildings would be useful. As it is, most buildings do have cooking facilities and people are just instructed to remain in their quarters while visibility is bad.
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2020, 8:56 PM
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I remember chatting with a guy in a chat room ~20 years ago whose name was something like "DanInAntarctica". I can't remember if it was a video chat or just text but after a while of seeing this guy in the chat room, it suddenly dawned on me, this fucking guy is chatting from fucking ANTARCTICA! I can't remember what he did there but he wasn't on holidays

Thanks for the pics, they're interesting even though they are the furthest thing, in every sense of the word, from skyscrapers
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2020, 9:59 PM
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Incredible! In my mind it's as if you're on another planet. Looking forward to the updates!!
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2020, 10:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil McAvity View Post
I remember chatting with a guy in a chat room ~20 years ago whose name was something like "DanInAntarctica". I can't remember if it was a video chat or just text but after a while of seeing this guy in the chat room, it suddenly dawned on me, this fucking guy is chatting from fucking ANTARCTICA! I can't remember what he did there but he wasn't on holidays

Thanks for the pics, they're interesting even though they are the furthest thing, in every sense of the word, from skyscrapers
When I was there, of course, there was no internet. Just short wave radio, frequently rendered useless by sunspots, solar storms etc.

But there are a variety of people doing a variety of things down there. In summer, the largest group are the scientific personnel like, I assume, SIGSEGV. Nearly all these people have grants from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Progams to do research in the Antarctic, most of which is uniquely helped by that environment whether it's perhaps cosmic ray research, looking for meteorites, researching the food chain of the exceptionally rich polar oceans, looking at global warming as it effects the polar ice cap or even various forms of medical research (when I was there, a group of anesthesiologists was looking at the diving response of Weddell Seals and a virologist was researching the transmission of cold viruses in the closed population of an Antarctic base in winter).

Besides these scientists, there are all sorts of logistics people from the medical staff, aircraft pilots and so on to cooks. When I was there most of those people were Navy personnel although, while there, the Navy was reimbursed for our pay by the National Science Foundation which ran the program. My understanding is the flying is now done by Air National Guard members rather than the Navy's VXE-6 squadron in my day (which then had the world's only ski-equipped C-130 aircraft).

Also, it should be recognized that McMurdo has a neighbor and there's a lot of interaction (or, at least, was--I took care of their medical needs as well as McMurdo's). That would be New Zealand's Scott Base which is a few miles away "over the hill".

This is Scott Base as it apparently is today (it was much smaller with just a few dozen people in my day)--McMurdo is literally over the hill in the background:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Base

New Zealand maintains a claim to a large pie-shaped wedge of Antarctica which it calls the "Ross Dependency" and it even issues Ross Dependency stamps which are used for snail mail from Scott Base (under the Antarctica Treaty, such claims are held in abeyance until and unless the Treaty is allowed to lapse). In effect, then, the US McMurdo base is a guest of New Zealand within the Ross Dependency.
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Old Posted Jan 17, 2020, 2:09 AM
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Fascinating for sure. But the million dollar question, what is tallest building in McMurdo seriously, they probably make great use of shipping containers and I wonder if that indirectly stared that slight trend.
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Old Posted Jan 17, 2020, 4:41 AM
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^^Waiting for another installment of modern McMurdo but in the 1970s the tallest building was 2 floors and there were several of those. Can’t recall anything 3 floors. I do note that in the first post in the thread, it looks like there are some 3 (even 4) floor ones now.

The shipping container theory was slightly complicated by the fact that most supplies were brought in by cargo jet plane. Much of the year there was an ice pack that precluded anything coming by ship but most years at the end of summer an oil tanker with oil to run the generators and one smallish cargo ship were brought in using ice breakers.

Most buildings other than storage facilities or others not occupied by humans were thickly insulated, unlike cargo containers.

Last edited by Pedestrian; Jan 17, 2020 at 9:08 AM.
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Old Posted Jan 17, 2020, 6:05 AM
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I had no idea there was anything even remotely this developed on Antarctica. Obviously I knew there were research bases and stuff but McMurdo looks not unlike quite a few remote Inuit villages in Canada's arctic. Been very cool to go through some photos of these places online now and I can't wait to see more here.
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Old Posted Jan 17, 2020, 7:05 PM
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Wow!! Antarctica getting represented here!! Great shots, and I'm sure it was quite an experience!!
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2020, 3:06 PM
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thank u very much dr. pedestrian for the deets on antarctic life. its certainly quite an effort to run such unusual science based towns.

speaking of what they do there, i just saw an example this morning on my weekly email feed of space news from fraser cain. the supertiger is a balloon experiment where they examine cosmic rays, check it out:

https://www.universetoday.com/144596...nd-antarctica/



Quote:
Originally Posted by Rooster slayer View Post
Fascinating for sure. But the million dollar question, what is tallest building in McMurdo seriously, they probably make great use of shipping containers and I wonder if that indirectly stared that slight trend.
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Old Posted Jan 19, 2020, 10:48 AM
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Awesome shots mate - thanks for sharing!

Looking forward to more of such a seldomly seen part of the world
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Old Posted Jan 19, 2020, 11:30 AM
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Originally Posted by SIGSEGV View Post
And yes, there are technically no cities here. But McMurdo is the largest settlement in Antarctica and South Pole may be the second largest? (not sure if any of the Argentine or Aussie bases are bigger...).
There's a tiny settlement from my country out there as well. It's called 'Adélie Land'. You might have heard of it much more than I did since your occupation has taken you to this isolated continent that's been basically shared between several nations, mostly for scientific purpose, I assume.

Here's the distribution of the territory, for anyone curious.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territ..._in_Antarctica

I didn't know the US had no official part of theirs, but they have some stations such as that you went to anyway.
Territorial claims probably don't matter so much over there after all. The scientific community has to be smarter than those claims.

I just googled the spot where the French community of scientists would stay over there, it's called Dumont d'Urville Station. Of course, it is just a little bunch of booths meant for scientists and no one ever hears of it over here, except for specialized folks.

It's probably very fine this way. The spot should remain pristine and at peace, so studies are not spoiled by any disturbance.
They say it helps them better understand the current state / shape of Earth, which is definitely important.
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Old Posted Jan 19, 2020, 6:08 PM
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Fascinating guys, keep it coming!
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Old Posted Jan 20, 2020, 9:50 PM
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Here is a picture of town from the Hut Point Ridge Trail from my way back from Pole (I didn't go up Ob Hill since it was far too windy... damn near got blown off the ridge into the ocean!). The blue building in is sort of the "main" building where a lot of offices, the store, the galley, and housing for transients (people passing through on the way to Pole or other field camps, like I was this year) are:





This is from 3 years ago, but I didn't get to go out on the ice this year (since it had broken up already by the time I was heading back) from the ice. It's not a great picture, but you can see to the left of the road what is probably the tallest building at McMurdo (built down a slope though...), the Crary Lab. On the second floor of the top module is the library, where grantees (people there on an NSF grant, like me, as opposed to contractors who are there to support the grantees) have the best wifi in all of McMurdo (actually, that's a lie, it's better at the long duration balloon facility). Here is more information about it: https://www.nsf.gov/geo/opp/support/crarylab.jsp



The actual tallest building near McMurdo is probably the payload hangers at the Long Duration Balloon Facility. That's where I was 3 years ago working on my balloon payload (and yes, this is my balloon payload here... this picture is also from 3 years ago). LDBF is located somer distance away from McMurdo on the Ross Ice Shelf, close to Willy Field (where the skiers land and take off).




One of my commutes three years ago was interrupted by one of the other payloads launching. Serendipitously, some NYT reporters had just landed at Willy Field, which resulted in my 15 minutes of fame:


(credit: NYT, in this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/i...ntarctica.html , although they've since reused the picture multiple times... note also that these reporters have much better pictures of McMurdo than I do!).

My back is partially obscured by the front right wheel of the Delta. Don't believe me? I have proof, in a picture I accidentally took of the NYT reporters. You can also see the "birds" of Willy Field here:



For a different type of bird, here's a picture of some Adelie Penguins that I took about 2 weeks ago (most of them were sleeping... but some would occassionaly wake up:



Here's a zoomed out picture of the scene (from Hut Point), including the US Ice Breaker which was busy breaking up the channel for the vessel to arrive:



Finally for today from McMurdo, here's a picture walking down from Arrival Heights (also from this year). Note the crane on the left. Work is beginning on a big modernization of McMurdo that will completely change the way it works and looks. You can learn about that by watching this video: https://future.usap.gov/aims-video/ . Next time I get a chance, I'll post some picture of Pole .
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