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 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.
Numbers can be powerful things, but they don't necessarily help the average person grasp what's actually going on in science. Instead, personal stories tend to make a bigger impact. And that's understandable. Things you can see—or things that someone can show you—are going to stick in your head a bit more than a barrage of data.
This is especially a problem, I think, with climate change. Some of the largest impact of climate change, so far, have happened in places far removed from the experiences of the people who create the most anthropogenic greenhouse gases. So it's often hard to take the idea "the Earth is getting warmer" and really grok what that actually means.
That's why people like Will Steger are important. Steger is an explorer and science communicator who has won the National Geographic Society's John Oliver La Gorce Medal—an award that's also been given to Amelia Earhart, Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen and Jacques Cousteau.
Henry Kaiser—filmmaker, musician, Antarctic research diver and BoingBoing guest blogger—took a series of infrared portraits of scientists and staff at the McMurdo Research Station. I really like the way these infrared photos feel like they capture the cold environment better than a normal photo would. Another bonus: I keep having to remind myself that, no, everybody in Antarctica has not dyed their hair blue.
Anyone can climb down the ladder and watch us divers at work under the ice. The snow was bulldozed off of the sea ice around the observation tube, creating a very light environment; which seems to have attracted an enormous population of larval and juvenile ice fish that form great clouds around the tube."
Suddenly, I wish I were washing dishes in Antarctica.
Kaiser dives for different researchers every year. This year, he's working with Hoffman's team, helping them study the effects of climate change on ocean life. Specifically, Hoffman has Kaiser out collecting Antarctic sea urchins so that her team can extract the animals' sperm and eggs to test the development of sea urchin zygotes in differing conditions of PH and temperature.
There's great footage in here of human life above the ice, and animal life below. It's a bit long, but I recommend taking the time to watch the whole thing.
The Polar regions of the Arctic and the Antarctic are both cold. Beyond that, you can’t really talk about conditions at one pole based on the conditions at the other. Case in point: Sea ice. Since 1979, there’s been a significant decrease in Arctic sea ice—about 4% per decade—correlated closely to an increase in global average temperatures.
But Antarctica is different. Averaged out, sea ice around the Frozen Continent has grown by a little less than 1% per decade. From place-to-place, season-to-season, and year-to-year, however, the trends in Antarctic sea ice have shown a lot more variability than those in the Arctic. In other words, there’s a lot we don’t know about sea ice in the Antarctic and, right now, the data we have is too noisy to say much about it for sure. At least, in a big picture sort of way.
In the small picture, though, this year has been tough one on the Ross Sea, near the McMurdo scientific research station. The sea ice in McMurdo Sound is thin; the snow is thick, and both those things have big implications for the scientists who normally work out on the sea ice. Henry Kaiser is a diver, filmmaker, and musician who has spent the last 10 years aiding scientists on research dives off the Antarctic coast. In this story, he talks about how thinner-than-normal sea ice affects scientists’ ability to do their jobs.
When I recycle, I have to separate out metal, plastic, chipboard, glass, plain paper, glossy paper, and newsprint. That sounds like a lot of separating, until you compare it to the recycling protocol at McMurdo Scientific Research Station, Antarctica.
There is nothing at McMurdo that wasn't flown or shipped there from far away. That costs a lot money. And, almost as importantly, it costs space. A crate of Ramen means less room for people, scientific instruments, etc. Nothing arrives in Antarctica without a purpose.
On the flip side of that coin: Everything that is brought to McMurdo must leave, in one way or another. There aren't any landfills in Antarctica. All the trash produced must be either burned, reused there, or flown back to civilization.
All of that means McMurdo has developed what is probably the most elaborate recycling program in the entire world. The trash matrix you see above is just half of the full list. You can see the other half after the jump — as well as a few extra recycling bins that turned up mysteriously one night.
Dayton's Wall is an underwater geologic formation named for Paul Dayton, a marine ecologist who studies the lives and interactions between seafloor-dwelling organisms. Located in Antarctica, in an area of the Ross Sea between McMurdo Station and Cape Armitage, Dayton's Wall is a great place to spot creatures that live on the rocky Antarctic seafloor.
This footage of life on Dayton's Wall was shot by Henry Kaiser, a man with a really awesome CV. Kaiser is a musician and filmmaker, and for the last decade he's also worked as a research diver, conducting dives beneath the Antarctic sea ice on behalf of scientists stationed at McMurdo.
Kaiser has turned some of his footage into music videos, set to songs performed by Nik Bärtsch's RONIN. With the artist's permission, Kaiser made two music videos. This one, and another set just beneath the surface of the ice. They're both beautiful and haunting, and make me want to find out more about Nik Bärtsch's RONIN, who I'd never heard of before.
We'll have more from Henry Kaiser soon, including an upcoming guest blog post. Watch this space for Antarctic wonders. And, in the meantime, check out his YouTube page. He posts new videos every day.