Today the amazing, enthusiastic lab assistants at the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center (the laboratory building at McMurdo, referred to simply as Crary Lab) led us on a tour of Discovery Hut! This was the first hut built by Robert Falcon Scott during the British Antarctic Expedition in 1901-1904, and it is a 15-minute hike from McMurdo Station, on Hut Point. Discovery Hut was a pre-fabricated hut designed in Australia. You can still see some of the markings they used to line up the parts of the hut, similar to the furniture at Ikea. The problem with the Australian design was that it was very effective at keeping out the heat in the Outback, but it was not so effective at keeping the heat inside, which made it a miserable place to be in Antarctica. Because of this, the explorers primarily used the hut for storage and it was never used as a long-term sleeping quarters.
The hut was also used by Ernest Shackleton’s 1907-1909 expedition, as a storehouse and temporary sleeping quarters. During Scott’s 1910-1913 expedition, the explorers used the hut for staging and as a rendezvous point for the Terra Nova expeditioners who were headed toward the Pole from Scott’s other hut at Cape Evans. The last time the hut was used by early explorers was in 1917, exactly 100 years ago!
Even though the hut is more than 100 years old, there are artifacts still preserved within its frigid walls. There are piles of Weddell seal pelts, with blubber still frozen. There are boxes of provisions, including oatmeal and “cabin biscuits.” There is even an old Primus stove, which has not changed much in design since those early days. In addition, there are the remnants of a gravity well, which they used to help test the hypothesis that the force of Earth’s gravity differs in different areas of the world. We now know that gravity does change slightly with latitude, and we weigh a little bit more at the poles than we do at the equator.
It was humbling to view these artifacts first-hand, because it called to mind the brave way the early Antarctic explorers faced the harsh environment, without the modern conveniences we now have at McMurdo. We are privileged to be able to work in such a place, in the name of science.
Written by: Heather Liwanag