Located on volcanic rock marking the southernmost solid ground accessible by ship, McMurdo Station is the gateway of most all scientific, private, and touristic jaunts into the Antarctic.
During the interminably sunny summer months, McMurdo’s population booms to over a thousand, comprised of scientists from both private and public spheres, supported by a whole cadre of seemingly-average Joes who keep the mini-city bustling. Grocers procure international comfort food, carpenters and construction workers maintain the place, bus drivers transport passengers and goods via the infamous “Ivan the Terra Bus,” gardeners tend greenhouses - and everyone eats soft-serve ice cream from McMurdo’s cafeteria.
One thing is for certain, individuals who choose to call McMurdo home, even for part of the year, can be as unusual as the climate at their doorsteps. Werner Herzog’s 2007 documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” admirably and lovingly demonstrated this point. And of course, when secluded in such extreme conditions, outlets for personal entertainment are of utmost import: a curling rink recently replaced the station’s bowling alley, there’s a weekly news publication, cable television, and personal Internet access to keep everyone sane.
Though officially “founded” in 1956 as a base for scientists venturing to the south pole and other remote research facilities scattered about the continent, just a stone’s throw from modern-day McMurdo lies the spot on Hut Point marked by said-hut which was left stocked with provisions in 1904 by Robert F. Scott on his polar expedition.
Thanks to the hut’s frigid (but dry!) climate and generally low-traffic location, the original pantry, laboratory and sleeping quarters of the men remain pristine and virtually untouched from their original condition. There are even the remains of seal butchered by the expedition for food. The hut is basically a time capsule of early Antarctic exploration.
Obscura Day location: April 9, 2011.
Know Before You Go
Access to McMurdo station is extremely limited outside of approved scientific purposes, your best bet is to volunteer for an internship or apply for a position in the base support staff (fire department, galley staff, etc). Year round flights arrive from New Zealand via military transport aircraft, ice breakers and resupply ships arrive during the summer months.
- Antarctic Connection: McMurdo Station: http://www.antarcticconnection.com/antarctic/stations/mcmurdo.shtml
- Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica: Virtual Tour - McMurdo Station: http://astro.uchicago.edu/cara/vtour/mcmurdo/
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Antarctic Exploration: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/AquaticEcosystems/Antarctica/Expedition/McMurdo.cfm
- MSNBC: "Reflections from time on ‘the Ice’" (January 2007): http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15834019/