Virtual Tour - McMurdo Station, Antarctica

McMurdo Station is Antarctica's largest community. It is built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, the farthest south solid ground that is accessible by ship. Established in 1956, it has grown from an outpost of a few buildings to a complex logistics staging facility of more than 100 structures including a harbor, an outlying airport (Williams Field) with landing strips on sea ice and shelf ice, and a helicopter pad. There are above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines linking buildings.

From 1955 until 1999, the Navy [Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6)] flew various aircraft in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, including LC-130 aircraft. In 1998 at the Navy's request, the Air Force/Air National Guard took-over command of the DoD support to the USAP (Operation Deep Freeze) from the Navy. VXE-6 continued to augment the Air National Guard with LC-130 flights until it was disestablished in March 1999. The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, which had augmented VXE-6 since 1988, became the sole USAP provider of LC-130 aircraft support, beginning with the 1999/2000 field season. Most of the pictures you see on the Virtual Tour date from before 1998, so most of the aircraft pictured are Navy; for more recent photos, see our page on the NYANG.

Sea ice from the air as you're getting closer to Antarctica. Photo: CARA/R. Landsberg

McMurdo McMurdo from the air.

Another view of McMurdo from the air; this one comes from the NYANG.

Williams Field Arrival at Williams Field, Antarctica.

McMurdo Self-deploying cargo leaving plane in Antarctica.

Delta Delta to transport people to McMurdo Station.

From Williams Field and the ice runways, flights not only span the continent, but maintain McMurdo's contact with New Zealand and the United States. Williams Field is 16 km from McMurdo on the Ross Ice Shelf. Ski-equipped planes can land there; wheeled airplanes use a harder, smoother runway on sea ice in October, November and into December, when the sea ice usually begins to break up and become unusable. A permanent, hard-ice runway for wheeled planes -- the Pegasus site on the Ross Ice Shelf -- was completed in 1992 and can be used in all but the warmest months.

McMurdo Station resembles an urban center in its population diversity and hectic pace. Like major cities, McMurdo serves as an international center where people of different backgrounds meet and exchange ideas. Winter population is about 250 persons; summer population can exceed 1100. The winterers are isolated from about March 1to about October 1. Air transportation is frequent between October and February.

DASI telescope arrives at McMurdo, October 1999
DASI is a new CARA telescope that studies the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. It will be installed this coming season in the Dark Sector at the South Pole. These pictures from its arrival at McMurdo in October 1999 involve the NY Air National Guard planes.

All DASI arrival pictures courtesy L. DeGalan, ASA.

Chalet NSF Headquarters.
The Chalet was erected during the 1969-1970 summer. It is the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) administration and operations center and houses the offices of the senior U.S. representative in Antarctica, the National Science Foundation (NSF) representative, and senior management of the support contractor, Raytheon Polar Services Company. The Chalet has a conference area and a meeting room for presentations and official social gatherings. The Chalet also has a single-sideband radio and satellite communication facilities for contact with the South Pole Station and field parties. In the foreground of this picture, you can see the Richard E. Byrd memorial.

Crary Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center (CSEC)
The new science facility, the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center (CSEC), dedicated on 5 November 1991, began full operation during the 1994-95 season. The Crary Laboratory supports biological, earth science, atmospheric sciences, and a new aquarium, all under one roof. The Crary facility was named for the geophysicist and geologist Albert P. Crary (1911-1987), the first person to set foot on both the North and South Poles.

Other science facilities at McMurdo include diving equipment and recompression chambers for diving accident victims, cosmic ray monitors, and stations to study magnetospheric and ionospheric phenomena.

dorms Dormitories and Observation Hill.
Housing facilities in McMurdo have improved greatly in recent years. These are some of the dorms provided for most of the civilians traveling through McMurdo in the summer. Only a few of the dorms remain open for the winter. Observation Hill is a neat place to hike and get a look out over the city.

Views of the mountains seen on a walk from McMurdo. Photo: CARA/R. Landsberg

Hut Point Hut Point, where Scott's hut is located.

The British explorer Robert Falcon Scott journeyed to the Pole in the early 1900s -- Scott established a base here on what is now McMurdo. (Scott picked it for the good reasons stated above: it's the farthest south solid ground that is accessible by ship.) Scott and his party left a hut here stocked with goods in 1904. The cold, dry air of the Antarctic tundra helps in preserving the hut and its supplies, but New Zealand maintains the site today.

Scott's Hut A view outside Scott's Hut.

Pantry The pantry inside Scott's Hut -- note that these are the original stores left in 1904.

Lab The lab area inside Scott's Hut. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz

Bunks The bunks once occupied by Day (lower) and Nelson in 1911. Day's bunk was used by Dick Richards during occupation of the hut by the Ross Sea Shore Party. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz

vehicle Because McMurdo is an unusual environment, there are somewhat strange-looking vehicles here. Photo: CARA/R. Landsberg

helo As mentioned above, McMurdo is a busy place in the summer, with all sorts of flights coming and going to various research teams. This helicopter is the only way to get to the Dry Valleys inland. Note the skis on the bottom.

Air and Sea Air and sea transportation at McMurdo.

Polar Star Third photo courtesy NYANG
Icebreaker -- USCG Polar Star.
This is a Polar-class ship, one of two polar icebreakers in the American Coast Guard fleet. The Polar Star and her sister ship, the Polar Sea, are both 122 meters long and displace 13,400 metric tons. There are 154 crew members per ship, and each can accommodate up to 20 scientists. (One of the two ships is deployed to each pole, so only one is in Antarctica each year.)

These ships have many unique features that make them appropriate vessels for these climates. Conventional navigation is difficult in extreme northern and southern latitudes, so these ships have sophisticated electronic navigation equipment on board. These ships also have sufficient hull strength to absorb high-powered rams into the ice. The portion of the hull designed to ram the ice is 4.5 cm (1.75 inches) thick in the bow and stern sections and 3.175 cm (1.25 in) amidships, built of steel that has special low-temperature strength. The hull shape is designed to maximize icebreaking by efficiently combining the forces of the ship's forward motion, the downward pull of gravity on the bow, and the upward push of the inherent buoyancy of the stern. The curved bow allows the ship to ride up on top of the ice, then the bow is levered through the ice like a giant sledgehammer. The Polar Star is able to ram her way though ice up to 6.4 meters (21 feet) thick and steam continuously through 1.8 meters (6 feet) of ice at 3 knots (5.6 km/hour)! There are also three pairs of connected tanks located on opposite sides of the ship. Pumps transfer a tank's contents (133 kiloliters, 35,000 gallons) to an opposing tank in 50 seconds and generate 64,800 kilowatt-seconds (24,000 foot-tons) of torque on the ship. Operations in the remote, hazardous, and unforgiving polar regions make it necessary for the crew to be highly self-sufficient. Crew members have extensive training in a variety of special skills.

heading south We're on our way!
This is looking south over McMurdo Sound, toward the Pole.

Various views of ice and the Trans-Antarctic Mountains from the plane:

Photos: CARA/R. Landsberg

Go on to the South Pole!
Whoops, I forgot something in New Zealand.

Much of the text of this document was heavily based on these official pamphlets, all of which are linked to copies on other servers: