Life: McMurdo Station Town Tour

Current location: McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Yesterday’s Extremes:
Max temp: 14°F
Min temp: 0°F
Peak wind: 33 knots
Lowest wind chill: -26°F

McMurdo Station, Antarctica is a small enough settlement that it just about all fits into one photograph taken from a ridge on the nearby Hut Point Peninsula. I took the above photograph in January a few years ago (there’s still snow on the hills and roads right now). I agree—it’s hard to imagine what a place such as this might look like. But think of a cross between a beat-down college campus and a frozen cargo yard surrounded by some spectacular snowy peaks, and you’ll come close.

Since a lot of building goes on at McMurdo during the summer season, materials seem to be strewn everywhere outside so that equipment can move it easily. Carpenters build structures in remote field camps that will keep scientists safe during their busy research season, and then they’re brought back to town for the winter.

The dorms (mine pictured above) are covered in corrugated sheetmetal and faded (or peeling) paint. Actually, most buildings on station conform to this sad architectural style, including Building 155 (below, blue), which is a combination dorm-galley-office building and McMurdo’s hub. Buildings often get called by their numbers alone—155, for example—but some dorms are more desirable to live in, such as the equally sad structures that have good views of the mountains and frozen sea.

Sure, there are a few buildings that deviate from the norm, such as the all-wood Chapel of the Snows. Catholic and Protestant church services are offered here, along with yoga in the evenings, morning stretching, AA, and other discussion groups that seek to explore answers to questions such as “What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?”

Scientists and contract workers, alike, must share their dorm rooms with at least one other person. The population is expected to near 1,300 people this year, which is causing a serious housing crunch. First-year workers are in bunks with five people to a room, so I’m feeling lucky to have a double room.

Scientists who do their work in McMurdo Station have offices in the Crary Science Lab, which is a state-of-the-art building that has cool industrial-freezer-style doorknobs and stilts in key spots that prevent accumulation of drifting snow.

My workspace in the station’s communications center is in one of the faded sheetmetal buildings described earlier (pictured above, with fellow radio operator smiling). When the wind blows really hard, it shakes stuff around in this windowless room. Cold puffs of air gust in through whatever cracks they can find, so we have to keep a space heater going on stormy days—or do sit-ups to stay warm. McMurdo Station is not one of the most architecturally attractive places, but it’s funky and innovative and always inspired.

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4 responses to “Life: McMurdo Station Town Tour

  1. Wow – I didn’t realize that the show ever melts off the ground and that you have dreary-looking dirt. Can’t they build more energy-efficient buildings? such as into the hill? Or is there too much permafrost?

  2. Wow, look at all those radios! and situps to stay warm…sounds like Vail for sure!

  3. Hi, Sibylle! Yes…the snow melts on Ross Island (home of McMurdo Station) in December and January. Gosh…I wish they would build more energy efficient buildings. Better insulation would go a long way, for sure.

    And…Jennifer…ha! Some things never change. I have to snack all day long here, too. 🙂

  4. Hi Tray…… thanks for the tour !! We had some heavy wind and finally some rain here yesterday. I am headed out to blow leaves and mow today. Starting to get really busy at UPS… I will have two long trips onThurs and Fri this week and then Churchill Downs opens for the fall meet. Mom and I will be at the big Breeder’s Cup races on 11/5-6. xoxo Dad

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