I traveled to Antarctica as part of the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), which provides support for researchers and support personnel working at the three U.S. Antarctic bases (McMurdo, Palmer, and South Pole) and various field locations. My work this year takes me to McMurdo station, which has been a major gateway to the continent for more than a century. I will work at the Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility, several miles out from the main station. I also collaborate on several instruments at South Pole Station, but doubt that I will make it out there this time around. Folks heading to Pole all pass through McMurdo on their way.
Official USAP luggage tags. Next stop: Antarctica!
The trip to Antarctica begins with a flight to the USAP embarkation facility in Christchurch, New Zealand. I left Los Angeles airport the night of Tuesday, Nov. 11th for a 14-hour flight to Sydney, Australia. After a two-hour layover there I hopped on a 3-hour flight to Christchurch (this time in business class!). By then it was the afternoon of Nov. 14th (I lost a day at the International Date Line). Travelers stay two nights in Christchurch before their “ice flight”, though weather delays are common.
Along the way I was happy to learn that I was traveling with two colleagues: Abby Vieregg (Chicago) and Steve Boggs (Berkeley). We were the last arrivals for each of the this year’s three long-duration balloon projects: ANITA (Abby), COSI (Steve) and SPIDER (me). They made good company for the trip, particularly for exploring Christchurch.
My ice flight companions, Steve and Abby
The next morning was spent at the USAP’s Clothing Distribution Center, where we were issued our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. The government issues you everything you need to live and work well below freezing, including long underwear, gloves, socks, boots, and a cozy parka known as “Big Red”. Much of that is actually too warm for everyday use in McMurdo (I’ll be spending most of my time in heated buildings), but it really comes in handy on hikes and when the wind comes up.
My ECW allotment (and luggage)
After ECW issue we spent most of the rest of the day strolling around Christchurch. This was a particularly surreal experience for my companions, who had visited before an earthquake destroyed so much of the town in 2011. The cathedral in the town center was gutted, and the town center had been replaced with a “container mall”: a surprisingly nice public space of stores and cafes, all built out of shipping containers.
A beautiful day at the “container mall” in Christchurch
The next morning (after a 3-hour flight delay) we changed into our cold weather gear and piled onto a C17, a massive military cargo transport plane. The trip to the ice lasted 5 (very loud) hours.
Boarding the C17 in Christchurch
On board the C17
As we approached landing the views from the windows were spectacular. The passengers put on sunglasses and lined up to gaze out of the tiny portholes at the blazingly-bright ice.
We landed, rode a transport to the station, completed a brief safety briefing, grabbed our luggage, and made it to the cafeteria just in time for dinner with our colleagues. It was a bright sunny evening: the next sunset is February 20th, so I won’t see nightfall again until I return to the states. Welcome to Antarctica!