Today Renee and I walked over to McMurdo Station to meet with the environmental team of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). There was a lot of concern from the American side that we had elected to walk the four kilometers between bases. Admittedly, there is a bit of a hill, but the exercise is good, it keeps you warm and you hardly sweat in
McMurdo Station is so incredibly different from Scott Base. You do feel like you enter a different country somewhere along that four kilometre track. MacTown consists of a whole lot of stand-alone buildings, with empty streets and only the dust blowing about. Most buildings just have a number and are without signage. Although there is ‘Hotel California’ (an accommodation block), ‘Trash Barn’ (for recyclable sorting) and ‘Chapel of the Snows’. We were to meet our hosts at ‘192’, which is the environmental block. We discovered the numbering isn’t chronological, but we found each other. This sterility of MacTown is only superficial however; inside these buildings are bustling with people and culture. For example, walk into ‘Trash Barn' and you’ll find a larger than life model of Oscar the Grouch overlooking the whole operation, a cowboy’s hat was tossed in the corner, I’m sure I saw an American flag (or two) and some American rock was playing. The population of MacTown averages ~1200 people making it the largest ‘town’ in
Renee and I had a great tour of the base. The whole of McMurdo seems to be very well tailored, or well used, to visits. Everyone was very accommodating and knowledgeable, not about only their job, but also the history of the Station,
Our tour included the food hall, the gym (where they offer volleyball, basketball, basketball, soccer and yoga), the communications office, the meteorological office, the power plant (diesel generators), the RO plant (desalinates sea water so that it is suitable for consumption) and even the waste water treatment plant. Yes, this is the kind of water treatment plant you are thinking of. Our guide of the plant was very offended we had initially asked for a tour of the power plant and RO plant, but not his waste water treatment plant. Here all MacTown’s ‘grey water' (which is brown) is treated through a biological process so that it is then suitable to be released into the ocean without doing harm to the environment. I can vouch for the fact that they do a really good job, and the water coming out of the process is very clear.
Because of the sheer population size of McMurdo, there is a lot of waste water to be treated and accordingly there is a much larger treatment plant than at Scott Base. To help ease pressure on the water treatment system at Scott Base, our policy is that all showers must be under three minutes. There are no complaints and the system works well. It is a good habit to become mindful of water usage in
Amongst all the hustle and bustle of the biggest Antarctic town, I did find a couple of sanctuaries. The ‘Chapel of the Snows’ is very warm and inviting, it has a great vantage point right on the shore, tea and coffee making facilities and a kiwi Minister who assures me all denominations and all sorts are welcome. A slightly better vantage point can be found on top of the Creary Lab in the library. There are also tea and coffee making facilities here and many interesting books to complement and educate you about the view.
Being a biologist, the highlight of my tour to McMurdo Station was definitely the Creary Lab. It is an amazing complex. It is huge and has the space, facilities and equipment for all sorts of science (the mind wanders with possibilities…). The lab accommodates ~500 scientists every year and has ~25 staff dedicated to running it. There was a 'touch pool' set up with the latest collection of strange Antarctic sea creatures collected by divers in the bay. There were isopods (sea lice) three inches long, starfish, fish, urchins, anemones, sponges and giant sea spiders similar in form to the long legged house spiders we see in New Zealand (only bigger and creepier).
Around McMurdo Station, there definitely wasn’t any talk of the rugby, not started by the Americans anyhow. There was talk of other upcoming events however. Prince Albert of Monaco is visiting both Scott Base and McMurdo Station from Thursday. The other news was that tomorrow is 'Mexican Day' and most importantly 'Cookie day'. If I am still around tomorrow, it would be a sin to miss the Wednesday tradition!
Despite the Herc arriving today, there is a chance I may be delayed until Friday in fact. Sadly, there has been a medical emergency and an American individual needs to get to
A comic artist at McMurdo Station produced this following the rugby match. 'Daisy picking' at MacTown is a communal rubbish collection day (equivalent to our communtiy beach clean up days in New Zealand)
Inside 'Trash Barn'
Just as 'Chapel of the Snows' has a name and a number, there is also a bell and a megaphone side by side
The ice breaker viewed from the coast in front of McMurdo Station
Some numbered buildings that are surplus to requirement at the moment. Notice they are all on skis
Sea spiders sitting on a sponge. These spider crabs are about the size of my palm. You can see the back end of the isopod to the left of the sponge too. Sleep well!