Working on the Edge
Antarctica provides scientists with excellent research opportunities in a wide range of topics, including astronomy, atmospheric and climate sciences, marine biology and ecosystems, and earth and oceanic sciences. While we were focused on geology and volcanology, we had the amazing opportunity to meet others who were engaged in fascinating field and laboratory work. McMurdo’s “science edifice,” the Crary Lab, contains laboratories that support many different types of research projects and provides limited office space for scientists. It is both educational and inspirational to get to know the different research teams at McMurdo. Many of these scientists go out to remote field sites, sometimes for day trips but more often for weeks or even months. It all depends on individual research needs and availability of field sites, availability of assets, and access to transportation. Before the summer field season starts, the NSF has to carefully evaluate resources and schedules. This includes support personnel such as mountaineers and cooks, and modes of transportation ranging from planes and helicopters to trucks and individual snow machines (skidoos). Problems can have a domino effect, and weather is always an unpredictable factor. Fuel has to be delivered to remote field sites and, if the weather is bad or there are mechanical problems with planes, delivery gets delayed and no personnel can be there. Even getting to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station can be problematic due to weather. While we were at McMurdo, a fellow grantee from the Artists and Writers Program had waited for two weeks for his flight to the Pole. Finally, the weather cleared and he boarded a flight. At lunch that day, we commented about how great it was that he was finally able to go, only to have him join us partway through lunch – his flight was “boomeranged” due to changes in weather conditions.