South Pole Diaries 1993/94



8th February 1994

From Michael Burton.....

This will be my final report (I hope) as I'm due to fly out of McMurdo at lunchtime tomorrow. Just some quick impressions of an Antarctic coastal town to let you know why life is better on the high Plateau!

Arrival at McMurdo actually feels rather similar in many ways to coming down off Mauna Kea into Hilo; the air is warm, there's plenty of it to breath, and there is that hustle and bustle of activity that makes you wish you were in a quiter place. And you can contact the real world once more, which is a mixed blessing when you see how many emails are waiting you!

McMurdo itself is a real industrial little town; an ugly place which is utilitarian but functions. It does have some impressive facilities though, none more so than the Crary science centre, a huge research laboratory built to plush government standards with an apparant surplus of all the latest equipment for the biological, geological and chemical sciences. In a balloon lab I saw 9 IR dewars from IR Labs, all making the IRPS pale into insignificance; and these are basically disposable! Much of the reject equipment here (eg IBM 386s, 5 year old furntiture etc) is given to Pole for their use. The next step for us Antarctic astronomers is to convince NSF that Pole infrastructure needs to be built up in the same way! (And I think they know; there are big paper plans for the Pole in the next 5 years or so.).

An historic event occured just after we landed; the first touchdown of a (wheeled) C141 on the new ice-runway ('Pegasus'); this is a third runway they've just opened to allow wheeled aircraft to land late in the season (ie now), and it will make a tremendous difference to capabilites. C141s can take about twice as many people and at least that much more payload, and should extend the season here available for science. Moreover there are a lot more C141's in the world than ski- equipped LC-130's . The next thing we need is for a way to be found to bring these beasts to the Pole!

McMurdo does have its history; Scott's Hut where the initial explorations of the Antarctic interior were made, for instance, with many tragic results (and not just the famous Pole conquest story). There's also Scott Base (NZ) where you can see Hillary's hut where they launched the first trans-antarctic crossing in the IGY. And there are some spectacular mountains in the distance; though unfortunately they are covered in cloud right now. I can only see the lower slopes of Erebus, though I find it hard to believe its 50km away. I've seen my first non-human life; countless skuas, a grand total of 4 Adalie penguins near Scott's Hut, and some seals out on the sea-ice. There was also a Russian cruise liner in when I arrived and a luxury French yacht. You can go for walks, and there are places to go to. But it can be cold, not so much from the temperature (I think its only a few below zero right now) but becuase od the wind. I was much more comfortable working at Pole; there you know what to wear and the weather's fixed!