Life at McMurdo Station

Living in Antarctica comes with a unique set of challenges. The weather is unpredictable and can be dangerous to work in, so making sure you and your team are safe is always top priority!

Our team is very fortunate to be able to work on Weddell seals, which live far from station on the sea ice. We drive snowmobiles to get to our field sites, which is really fun but also really bumpy because we are travelling on a road made of snow and ice. It is also so cold that fog on our goggles will instantly freeze, so we have to take care to put them on at the last minute before we drive. The ice is always changing, and sometimes dangerous cracks form that can be hidden by drifting snow. When we walk on the sea ice, we carry crevasse probes, which have wooden handles and long metal spikes to check the depth of the snow and ensure we are walking on solid ice. We never travel on the ice alone, and any time we go out, we radio our plans to MacOps, the communication team that monitors all of the groups working on the sea ice. There are no cell phones here, so if anything goes wrong or we need help, we call MacOps. If we miss our check-in time by even one minute, MacOps will initiate an emergency protocol to send a search and rescue team to find us. (This is why it is just as important to check in as it is to check out!)

When we work on the ice, it is hard to stay warm; we don’t have blubber or fur like the Weddell seals, so we have to wear lots of layers and big boots to protect ourselves from the cold and wind. Wearing that much gear makes it hard to move – we all waddle like penguins to get around! We also eat a lot! Food gives your body much-needed energy that helps you to stay warm, and a nice thermos full of hot chocolate sure hits the spot when you are out in a blizzard! On days that it is too cold and windy to work in the field, we still need to move from building to building. That means bundling up in our layers just to walk to the galley for breakfast!

Because Antarctica is so unique, the animals that live here are also special and it’s very important that we minimize our impact on their environment. There is no place to go grocery shopping and resources are limited. Food cannot be grown in Antarctica, so all the food is shipped from New Zealand. We also have to bring all of our own supplies including clothing, personal items, and any gear. Fresh water is hard to come by, even in a place covered in snow and ice, so we all do our part to conserve water. Showers are short, and we are asked to limit our showers to 4 times a week. On station, we recycle and reuse as much as possible. When we are out in the field, we have to bring everything we need and make sure we pack everything out, leaving no trace that we were there… and that means everything! We even have to pee in a water bottle (well-labeled with a big P, to distinguish it from our drinking bottles) and bring it back to station to dispose of its contents properly. There is a wastewater treatment plant on station that processes all of the wastewater to protect the delicate ecosystem right outside our windows.

While there are many challenges to living in Antarctica, the community is small and very friendly. We all work hard, and with the extra challenges of working in such a harsh environment, we all try to help each other. It’s amazing to be part of such a dedicated community that is working towards the same goal – conserving and protecting this special place!

Written by: Sophie Whoriskey

Heather Liwanag