Sunday, November 11, 2018

Working at McMurdo Station

I know there are long delays between posts.  It seems I have little time for anything but eating, sleeping and working.  The first two plus weeks I worked 6 9-hour days, with Sundays off.  But on Monday, November 5th I started a new schedule.  I’m now working 5 11-hour days with Fridays and Sundays off.  Even though the work days are longer, it’s nice to have two days off each week. I’ll try to be a little more regular with my posts.

McMurdo Station from the Hut Point Loop Trail.

In Shuttles we have day and night shifts Monday thru Saturday.  The shifts are generally 0600 to 1800 and 1800 to 0600 the next day.  I’m working days.  Shift times can vary a little in order to cover all our scheduled runs and to accommodate changes, particularly the arrival and departures of aircrafts.  I’ve started as early as 0515 in order to do a 0530 run.  

Just a note about the times.  As you can see, we use the 24 hour format.  In order to get used to it I’ve changed my phone and my Fitbit (which I use as my watch) to that format.  It’s taking a while to get used to the change.  Afternoons seems to be the hardest for me.

Delta Gale at Phoenix Airfield.

So what do I do?  As the name implies, in Shuttles we transport people around McMurdo Station and the surrounding area.  Many of our shuttle runs involve transporting passengers and workers to and from the two airfields.  The vehicle we use depends on the number of passengers.  I have mostly been driving our vans which seat 7-14 people.  But I’ll also be driving a Delta, which seats 14-17 people.  There are also two large vehicles, the Kress and Ivan the Terror Bus (pictured in my last post), which seat 72 and 56 passengers, respectively.  

Before each shift, each vehicle is inspected before being put into service.  The vehicles are serviced based on the number of hours instead of miles.  Many of the vehicles are plugged in when not in use to keep the engines warm.  The vehicles are exposed to the elements all year round.  It’s a tough life for vehicles here on the Ice.  My car doesn’t realize how good it has it sitting in the garage.

My friend Shuttle Bill with the Kress.

What about the roads?  On Ross Island, which is where McMurdo is located, the roads are carved out of volcanic rock.  Once you leave the island and on to the ice shelf, the roads are a mixture of ice and snow.  The snow roads, as they’re called, are continually being groomed.  The road maintenance crews do a pretty good job of keeping them in good driving shape.  But changing weather conditions, like snow, wind and sunshine, makes it a challenge to keep the surfaces compacted.

Shuttle Rex in front of one of the vans.

Besides driving, each person in Shuttles takes a turn at dispatching.  It can get pretty hectic taking phones calls for rides and vehicle requests, monitoring two channels on the radio system, updating the vehicle status and aircraft status boards and numerous other tasks.  There are a lot of moving pieces and I’m impressed with the seasoned folks who can juggles all these tasks with ease.  I’m still working to get there.

I’m including a few pictures from a recent hike.  In a couple of months I’ll take some photos of the same area once the ice has melted.  Right now there are Weddell seals laying on the ice in front of Ross Island giving birth to their pups.  Penguins probably won’t show up for another month or so, if at all.  I hope to see both the Emperor and Adelie penguins, so stay tuned.  A few people have seen skuas, a gull like bird.  They are bigger than the sea gulls we see in the States but similar in they are both scavengers.

The Ross Island coast line to the west of McMurdo Station.

  • It’s continuously light until the next sunset which will be February 20, 2019. 
  • A couple of new weather terms I’ve not heard before.  Today our weather was “gloomy” and there are a couple of frontal systems “conspiring together” as they head towards McMurdo.  Actually, very descriptive terms.
  • There are currently 850 people at McMurdo Station.
  • I posted a link to the Nova series on McMurdo Station.  They are here right now filming. It will give you additional information on life at McMurdo and some of the ongoing research. 

The view of the Royal Society mountain range from the office and my dorm.


Unknown said...

Rex, this is so interesting! And your writing is superb! And the photos! It would be fun to paint the ice against the water... Thanks so much for sharing your interesting life! Love, Marty

Lynn H. Ogden said...

I'd like to get my Jeep Grand Cherokee lifted and the same tires that you have on the van pictured. It sounds as though you are having an exciting adventure. I enjoy the messages. Thanks!

Gianni alsoknownas John said...

Fascinating details and great photos, Rex! They are really putting you to WORK with all those long shifts. Rest up when you can. I can't wait until you get to see the penguins when they show up!

Peggy said...

Glad you are getting accustomed to your driving. You are having lots of different experiences. It snowed the other morning and I wasn’t very thrilled but then I thought about you and determined I’d be content. So glad you like challenging circumstances!! Hope the penguins show up. That would be my favorite!!! Blessings to you- thanks for sharing. We love you and pray for you!! God bless you!! Hugs and Kisses!

Unknown said...

Great stuff Rex...Seems like it's taking a bit of time to get into the routine, but you're getting there. Best to keep busy, I imagine. Learning a lot, seeing a lot. Do they have movies for the crew or some such? and how's the food? What are sleeping conditions? Keep the posts coming.

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