Monday, November 13, 2006

Life in Antarctica- McMurdo Station

There are no native people of Antarctica. The only people here for longer than a cruise or tourism visit are those that work in science or as support staff. For scientists, there are two basic ways of life in Antarctica: those that live and work at the station, and those who live and work out in the “field.” The “field” means any location without permanent buildings and usually implies that you are camping and living with fewer resources (showers, toilets, etc). In a week I will go out to the field for the remainder of my time here, but even everyone that comes to Antarctica to work in the field has to go to one of the main stations first to get training (if it’s your first time to the ice) or collect gear. McMurdo station is the largest of the many US research stations on Antarctica, and it is located off the Ross Sea on McMurdo sound. At peak capacity in the summertime (Nov-Jan) there can be up to 1100 people living here.
Despite what you might think, station life is pretty normal. It reminds me a lot of summer camp or college because you stay in a dorm style room, you go to the dining hall for meals, there is a clinic, gym and even a church. Because so many people are down here (100-200 stay over the wintertime too) quite a lot of social activities have evolved. You can sign up for intramural sports like dodge ball and soccer, there are yoga classes every week, there is a rock climbing wall and bouldering gym, bowling alley, a ceramics room and even a local radio station. There are three bars at the station that usually host talent shows, open mic nights or parties. One guy even started a program after the US TV show called “The Biggest Loser: Antarctica” to help people lose weight! The people at McMurdo have also established some trails around the area that you can hike or ski in your free time if you’ve taken the Outdoor Safety class. You can even rent cross country skis and other outdoor gear for free.
View of McMurdo Station from Observation Hill

The station itself looks pretty ugly because all the buildings are designed for function (not style) and look like warehouses from the outside. Inside though, they look like normal academic buildings and labs. At first I was surprised to learn that I’d be able to access the internet at all but I didn’t expect almost all of the station to be equipped with wireless access. Even some of the field camps have wireless access (in the trailers). I can also call home from a regular land line telephone. One important thing I have to remember when calling home- I’m 18 hours ahead of the east coast! McMurdo station keeps New Zealand time, so when it’s noon on Sunday in Maryland, it’s 8am on Monday here!

1 comment:

jianantonic said...

Wow, Emily, that sounds great. I can't believe I'm actually jealous of the fact that you're in Antarctica. I know it won't all be peaches and cream when you get out in the field, but it really sounds like a great atmosphere for you there.

Have fun, and I know you're 18 hours ahead, so don't give away the future, ok? I want to see what happens for myself. Thanks.

~m