No bugs in Antarctica

2019 May 1st

Thursday morning I head to the galley for a large breakfast - it is going to be a long day of flying. There is a light snow falling and a low cloud cover and I am starting to wonder if the flight to Christchurch might be cancelled. I check the “scroll” - an ever updating list of flight arrivals and departures to and from destinations (mostly field camps) all over the continent, as well as the intercontinental flights to Christchurch. The scroll plays on a large-screen TV outside the galley, 24 h / day. The flight is still on, so I proceed. I eat, finish packing my carry on (all my other bags were checked last night at the bag drag), strip all the linens from the bed and put them in a huge blue laundry bag outside the dorm room door. My roommate left two nights ago to head to a glacier in the Dry Valleys (a truly interesting snow-free feature in Antarctica) to use electrical resistivity equipment to image permafrost structure beneath stream beds.

I head to the lab to have one last quick visit with my teammates. That empty spot on the bench in the front right - that is my spot. It’s sadly vacant.

Then it is time to suit-up in the ECW gear and head to building 140. All aboard "Ivan the Terra Bus” for one last low speed drive out to Willy Field. Once at Willy Field we have a few minutes on the ice to stretch our legs, then back onto Ivan for the ride out to the plane.

The Herc flight crew is ready to go. The Load Master gives us a quick safety brief. I think there are 34 of us, including a large contingent of Italian Antarctic scientists. The Italian Antarctic base is not terribly far from McMurdo. I am not sure if the Italians typically share our flights or this is a special trip. But there is no time to chat once we all pile into the Herc and put in ear plugs. When those four engines fire up it is deafening inside the Herc. The inside of the Herc is crowded - but it is mostly people on this flight and not too many pallets of cargo, so it is bit more comfortable than some of the other flights. For lunch most people eat cold pizza that they picked up from the “grab and go” refrigerator in the galley. No flight attendants pushing beverage carts down the aisle on this flight!

Eight hours later we are in Christchurch. The plane rolls to a stop. They open the cargo bay door of the plane and the smells of summer rush in. It is a warm summer day in Christchurch. And I am dressed for the low thirties.

We go through passport control. We go through customs. Then we do the 15 minute walk over to the Antarctic Center and Clothing Distribution Center. Remember the CDC from my post on the way down? 

Here I am, having just wheeled my cart into the CDC. Lots ‘o luggage! And I am wearing a flannel shirt and long johns. Not exactly dressed for summer!

Now the time has come to turn in all that ECW gear. It all goes into a huge pile. I say goodbye to Big Red, which kept me warm no matter what the weather. Seems sort of undignified to just toss Big Red onto the pile. Everything will get washed and be ready for the next Antarctic scientist to come along. Maybe Big Red will be handed to another newbie like me.

I wander outside and am all smiles to realize that there are trees and grass and bugs and things. There are no plants in Antarctica - apart from the “growth chamber” at South Pole station.

As I said before, this has been the experience of a lifetime. I’m already missing the McMurdo routine. However, while my Herc was flying north, another Herc was flying south taking more scientists to McMurdo to do their work. My departure made room for others to arrive and do their science.  It is a unique opportunity for all of us.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the posts.

Dr. Bob Woodward, IRIS