Sunday, January 24, 2010

Life at McMurdo

Since the science is over, and me hanging out with random people isn't that exciting for a science blog, I've decided to do a post about what life is like at McMurdo.

There are people here that come and go, but there is a big group who stay the entire season, with maybe a little R&R trip in the middle. Therefore, there is quite the sense of community between most of these folks. They are stuck here, sometimes with their significant others, sometimes without, spending holidays & birthdays together, sharing the bad times as well. I was talking to a friend here who has an extensive interest in personality types and she says that the most popular personality down here, Myers-Briggs-wise, is the INTJ. Which is, of course, what I am. No wonder only 1% of the the rest of the world is INTJ... they're all down here on the ice! But you can easily see why that type of person is drawn to this place. There are a lot of travelers, wanderers, science & tech people, dreamers. Not that I could ever come down here permanently or semi-permanently as many have chosen to do. There's no grass! No gardens (with the exception of the little greenhouse on the hill), no dogs & cats, very little fresh food, no trees. And most importantly, no time alone! Usually everyone has a roommate, at least in the summer season. There's also no real seasons and most of the year there's no day & night. Just constant sunlight or constant dark. A lot of the things I love in life are not here. But somehow these people make it work, and in some ways I admire that.

The town is one of the most functional, efficient systems I've ever seen in action. It is that way, of course, because of the relatively few amount of people it needs to service. Even a small university is much larger in scope. There is also a bit of a divide. Raytheon, a government defense contractor, provides much of the support for the town and it's scientists. Yet a bunch of the employees are not huge fans of Raytheon and are, in fact, oftentimes on the fringes of American politics and society. With such a critical opinion of the military contractor that they work for, there are understandably some conflicts that arise. I've seen subversive stickers on the walls and heard conversations that Raytheon officials would not like to overhear. But there is also a more present divide between the actual military stationed at the base and the support and the scientists. Not many of the civilians or beakers (slang for scientist) here actually socialize with the army guys and gals. I was one of the few, gladly getting the compliment of the "one cool beaker." But really, everyone is here for the same purpose: to do their job, do it well and have some fun in the meantime.

Some of the fun of being here is the sense of isolation. The only way on or off the continent is by ship or by air. And each avenue is essentially close off during the entirety of the winter season. Currently, there is a fuel vessel in port, pumping thousands of gallons of fuel into McMurdo - enough to last the long, dark winter.

The USNS Paul Buck - I love the huge "NO SMOKING" sign on the ship full of gasoline


There is a flurry of activity here every day. McMurdo doesn't sleep and it never stops. Planes and helos are arriving and departing constantly, every day that the weather cooperates during the busiest time. Passengers arriving from field sites, the South Pole, Christchurch. There are a million jobs to get done each and every day. As hard as everyone works, they find the time to throw some pretty awesome parties.

The scenery is the best part honestly. Although you have to get away from town to see it in its pure state.

View from the NSF Chalet


This place is beautiful, but you are constantly surrounded by the chugging of trucks and machinery, the beeps of backing up vehicles and the general chaos of a perpetual construction site. It's noisy and dirty and dusty. And yet, off in the distance you can see the undamaged terrain that McMurdo used to be. Yes, this place must exist if we are to explore and understand the far reaches of this continent, but it is still a little sad.

Dirty McMurdo


I have really enjoyed my time here, but am so glad to be going home. My house, my friends, my life - they are all calling me back home. But I've made some friends here and met a LOT of people and had some truly good times. Going to the bag drag in just a few hours and then the flight out is tomorrow. I'm coming back to New Hampshire!!!

{Actual posting date: Monday, January 25th, afternoon}

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