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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.