After leaving Christchurch, New Zealand where we pick up our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) Gear that includes everything from socks to the ‘Big Red’ parka, we fly via a cargo plane to McMurdo Station. This is the largest research base on the continent and provides all the other gear and supplies we need for the trip. McMurdo is much like any small town (with a hospital, library, church and bars – but no WalMart or McDonalds), except that its purpose is to support science. Hundreds of scientists, from atmospheric scientists and biologists to climate scientists and physicists, pass through or stay in McMurdo station to complete their research activities. We will gather and pack up all our camping supplies and research sampling materials for transport to our field study area.
McMurdo Station (U.S.) and Scott Base (New Zealand) are situated less than 2 miles apart on a peninsula of Ross Island. This island is made up of two volcanoes, Mt. Terror and Mt. Erebus. Mt. Terror is inactive, but Mt. Erebus (http://erebus.nmt.edu/) hosts an active lava lake and typically has a plume of smoke rising above its summit at 12,447ft above sea level. Its activity varies on a daily basis, but it has been over 30,000 years since it has had a major eruption.
Crary Science Lab
The Crary Science Lab is where we have our temporary office until we go out in the field. Some groups, particularly biologists use the lab to do a wide range of experiments while in McMurdo.
There are a variety of unusual vehicles moving around McMurdo, the newest acquisition was selected to transport people from the airfield to McMurdo. As you can tell, the tires are huge! This distributes the weight to help prevent getting stuck when the snow gets soft.
Lately, many of the vehicles have been sporting mudsicles. The roads are all gravel (or snow) and when the snow melts, some pretty spectacular streams cut through town, keeping the graders busy and covering vehicles in mud. Most vehicles also have an electrical cord dangling from the front. While parked, these are plugged into outlets to keep the engine warm. If you’re from one of the northern states in the U.S., this may look quite familiar to you.
Crevasse Rescue Training
Part of our safety training is practicing ways to climb out of crevasses if we are unfortunate enough to end up in one. The largest crevasses can be as deep as 100 ft and wide enough to swallow a large truck! Practice begins indoors where we attach two prusiks loops to make moveable steps to climb up the rope. This assumes that the person who has fallen into a crevasse is uninjured and can think clearly enough to climb out on their own. The alternative is for those who are safe on the surface to create a pulley system to hoist the person out. Outside we normally practice in a fake crevasse, which is really just a deep trench dug into the snow.
Getting to our field study site
An aircraft called an LC130, which has skis, instead of wheels, will fly us from McMurdo Station to our field site. We may also use Twin Otters to move our gear to our field sites. Once we get dropped off, we’ll travel to our camp site on snow machines towing sleds full of our gear.