Historical photos from Antarctica

The United States Antarctic station at McMurdo Sound was opened in 1956. Originally it was operated by the Navy, rather than the National Science Foundation. This photo was taken during the Navy years, in November of 1958.

The flat white snow at the bottom of the photo is the frozen McMurdo Sound. The 'road' is the landing strip for the U.S. Navy planes which supported the U.S. Antarctic Program when this photo was taken. You can see the airplanes parked near McMurdo Station, along the coastline. This U.S. Navy photo was donated by Charlotte Koch, whose husband Richard Koch was a P2V Navy pilot in Antarctica.

The photo (and that quote) comes from a collection of historical photos in the United States Antarctic Program's photo library.

The history of the McMurdo site turns out to be pretty interesting. The first human presence there dates to 1902. It's where Robert Scott made landfall and, up until the Navy arrived in 1955, the only buildings at the site were Scott's hut, and a couple of other shelters built to house Scott's equipment. By 1960, there were 90 permanent structures.

But this isn't a story of runaway growth. Scientists in Antarctica recognized the need to preserve the ecology of the continent pretty early on. Today, there are about 100 buildings at McMurdo and the facility hasn't been allowed to expand much beyond the landscape impacted by humans during the first 10-15 years of the station's existence.

Read a 2008 paper from the journal Polar Geography about McMurdo's history and efforts to document and limit the station's growth.

See more pictures from the Antarctic Photo Library.

Photos via Peter Rejcek, a great person to follow if you want to know more about Antarctic science.



  1. Oh yeah, mesmerizing stuff.

    When time abounds, I recommend opening Google Earth and surfing the areas where mountains peek out of the icecap, or going across the coastline.  Just be sure to click on the Panoramio pictures that appear on the screen, try to imagine the people who took those haunting photos of Soviet bases back in the sixties and seventies.

    Then there’s Herzog’s fantastic documentary “Encounters At The End Of The World”.

    1. Shoggoths are  just the cover story.  The real reason the Navy went down there in force  is the UFO Nazis, everybody knows that. (There may be some UFO Nazi shoggoths, of course.)

      1. You jest, but there are people that think the Nazi’s really did contact an alien presence in Antarctica.  And that Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” was just a fictionalized version of the truth.

        I have a little niche blog about Lovecraftian props and every couple of months I get a whackadoodle email on the subject.

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