Welcome to Science Cargo

Hello friends and family! It’s been quite a while since my last Carpe Cervisiam post. I intended to continue posting pictures and stories from our 2012-2013 Antarctic deployment after we left McMurdo, but life got in the way. The past couple years have been incredibly busy, and time just breezed by. There remain many stories about life and work on “The Ice” (with pictures, of course) to be shared, so I will attempt to continue doing so here. As a start, here is a quick update on life:

After the 2012-2013 Antarctic season, and a hard-earned month of travel and family time, I returned to Vanderbilt University to wrap up graduate school. I completed my PhD this past August, after what felt like a 2-year-long marathon with a sprint to the finish line. Two months after that (Oct. 2015), I found myself back in McMurdo Station joining Bev for another Antarctic adventure. For Bev, it’s business as usual. She continues to work for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) supervising McMurdo’s scientific laboratory facility: Crary Science & Engineering Center (CSEC). This is her 4th year in that position, and her 6th deployment to Antarctica.

Bev in her office, at McMurdo Station's Crary Science & Engineering Center (CSEC). © A. Padilla
Bev in her office, at McMurdo Station’s Crary Science & Engineering Center (CSEC).
© A. Padilla

As for me, it’s a new environment. After finishing graduate school, I decided I could use a change of pace for a little bit. I am spending the 2015-2016 Antarctic season working as a cargo handler for the USAP Science Cargo department in McMurdo Station. The bulk of my job is to assist with processing, movement, and tracking of scientific cargo within the USAP system, which includes instruments, provisions (food and equipment), and eventually samples that will directly support a science team in achieving their research goals in Antarctica. We are basically the Antarctic FedEx operation for scientists. Our building, the Science Cargo warehouse, is the second oldest building on station. It is a steel-framed insulated Quonset arch with wooden floors constructed in 1958, during the military’s Operation Deep Freeze.

The Science Cargo warehouse and USAP Cargo office (little blue building in front) at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. © A. Padilla
The Science Cargo warehouse and USAP Cargo office (little blue building in front) at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
© A. Padilla
The Science Cargo warehouse (left) and the Berg Field Station (right), in McMurdo Station, Antarctica. © A. Padilla
The Science Cargo warehouse (left) and the Berg Field Station (right), in McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
© A. Padilla
The loading bay inside the Science Cargo warehouse; view from the main entrance. © A. Padilla
The loading bay and staging area inside the Science Cargo warehouse; view from the main entrance.
© A. Padilla
The cargo staging area at Science Cargo where most cargo is processed; view toward the main entrance. © A. Padilla
The cargo staging area at Science Cargo where most cargo is processed; view toward the main entrance.
© A. Padilla

So how exactly does scientific cargo get to Antarctica in the first place?? Well, when a science group in the United States is getting ready to head to Antarctica for research, the first thing they will do is to package all the scientific instruments and equipment that they will need to do their field work in Antarctica (this is their “science cargo”), and ship it to Port Hueneme, a Naval base in Ventura County, CA. This is the processing base for all USAP cargo en route to Antarctica. The cargo will then fly via commercial air to New Zealand, and finally to Antarctica via military aircraft (either a C-17 Jet, or a LC-130 Hercules).

2010 Boeing C-17A Globemaster III (USAF) Hanging out at the Christchurch International Airport. © A. Padilla
2010 Boeing C-17A Globemaster III (USAF)
Hanging out at the Christchurch International Airport.
© A. Padilla
Arriving in Antarctica's Pegasus Runway for the 2015-2016 season, aboard a 2010 Boeing C-17A Globemaster III (USAF). © A. Padilla
Arriving in Antarctica’s Pegasus Runway for the 2015-2016 season, aboard a 2010 Boeing C-17A Globemaster III (USAF).
© A. Padilla
1992 Lockheed C-130 Hercules "The City of Christchurch" Ski-equipped to be able to land in deep field camps. © A. Padilla
1992 Lockheed C-130 Hercules “The City of Christchurch”
Ski-equipped to be able to land in deep field camps.
© A. Padilla

When the cargo arrives in McMurdo’s Pegasus Airfield, it is off-loaded from the plane by Antarctic Terminal Operations and delivered to McMurdo Station on a cargo vehicle (either a Foremost Delta, or the CAT Kress). Once the cargo is sorted, Science Cargo takes over. We deliver all scientific cargo to the proper location (e.g. the Crary Lab, or the Science Cargo warehouse). Some of the scientific equipment that we move and deliver can be quite large and heavy (e.g. drilling equipment for ice cores), which requires the use of a heavy machinery. Most commonly, we will use either a Caterpillar IT-28 Loader (Science Cargo is assigned a loader named “Pily”), or a Case Mark4K Forklift (a military forklift that we refer to as a “Pickle”). Yes, I get to drive both regularly.

Foremost Delta III B Cargo Vehicle delivering Ice Core samples to McMurdo Station. © A. Padilla
Foremost Delta III B Cargo Vehicle delivering Ice Core samples to McMurdo Station.
© A. Padilla
CAT IT-28 Loader off-loading ice core samples from the Delta at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. © A. Padilla
CAT IT-28 Loader off-loading ice core samples from the Delta at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
© A. Padilla
CAT Kress 730 Cargo Vehicle, delivering generators (yellow) to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. © A. Padilla
CAT Kress 730 Cargo Vehicle, delivering generators (yellow) to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
© A. Padilla
Science Cargo's CAT IT-28 A Loader (affectionately known as "Pily"). © A. Padilla
Science Cargo’s CAT IT-28 A Loader (affectionately known as “Pily”).
© A. Padilla
Science Cargo's CAT IT-28 A Loader (affectionately known as "Pily"). © A. Padilla
Science Cargo’s CAT IT-28 A Loader (affectionately known as “Pily”).
© A. Padilla
J.I. Case M4K forklift; we refer to these as "pickles." © A. Padilla
J.I. Case M4K forklift; we refer to these as “pickles.”
© A. Padilla
M4K "Pickle" (this one is affectionately known as "Que Sera Sera") ready to pickle inside a millvan (which we refer to as a "can"). © A. Padilla
M4K “Pickle” (this one is affectionately known as “Que Sera Sera”) ready to pickle inside a shipping container (also known as “millvans” or “cans”).
© A. Padilla

Once the science group arrives on station and sorts through their cargo, they will bring it back to our warehouse where we will help them re-arrange, re-package, and re-process everything for transport to the field. The cargo is then transported by either military or contract air (Kenn Borek Air, a Canadian company, provides fixed wing support for the USAP) to the field location where each group will be working.

Kenn Borek Air's 1942 Basler Turbo 67 at Williams Field (runway), Antarctica. © A. Padilla
Kenn Borek Air’s Basler Turbo 67 at Williams Field (runway), Antarctica.
© A. Padilla
Kenn Borek Air's ski-equipped DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 at Odell Glacier, Antarctica. © A. Padilla
Kenn Borek Air’s ski-equipped DHC-6 Twin Otter 300
at Odell Glacier, Antarctica.
© A. Padilla

After all the field work is done, and a group returns to McMurdo with their research samples in hand, we take over again. Their cargo will go through the same re-packaging process to be shipped back home. The science group will also hand their samples to us with instructions on how to care for them. Of particular importance are samples that are temperature-sensitive, such as ice cores that need to remain frozen, or biological specimens (e.g. microbes) that need to remain at a very specific temperature range (e.g. chilled, but not frozen). Once we have properly packed all their samples, they are shipped back to the science group’s home institution along with all their science cargo in the same way that they were initially shipped southbound to Antarctica.

And that is Science Cargo in a nutshell.

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One thought on “Welcome to Science Cargo

  1. Very nice summary my friend! I was wondering what you were doing down there… now I know that you are playing with heavy machinery on the ice. Doing donuts I presume! Hope you are having a blast!

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