Mac Town

I think first impressions can be deceptive. McMurdo looks as much like a strip-mining town as any place I’ve ever been. It has a lot of heavy equipment, a lot of labor, a lot of ugly buildings, and a lot of dirt everywhere. I’ve seen this kind of thing in Pennsylvania. Eventually, I realized that what they are mining in McMurdo is Science. It’s an odd thing, but all of us are here to support and contribute to strip-mining Science out on the ice, or in the water, or up in the sky, or deep in the volcano, or down in the bedrock. The little bits of Science are being dug out and sent where they can be of use.

Hell of a sight.

This is how McMurdo looks, on a bright clear day near the end of October.

There’s a fundamental tension between strip-mining — even Science — and trying to do that in one of the most delicate and protected places on the planet. They are trying to make a “pack it in, pack it out” town the size of the town where I grew up; I think it’s working rather well. This is all detailed in The Antarctic Treaty. I’ll have some more detailed posts about recycling, the water plant, and the waste water plant here at MCM later, and likewise at South Pole.

I think a good example is that we get extensive spill training. We are not to spill anything. If we do, we report it, we shovel it up, and we deal with it. Coffee, oil, fuel, spit, pee, dish soap; it’s all the same. It’s the same at McMurdo, it’s the same at South Pole, it’s the same at Scott base, it’s the same at the field camps. It’s the same at the Russian bases, it’s the same at the New Zealand bases … you get the idea.

I wouldn’t say it’s perfect. I don’t think we could pick up with no trace. But I think the whole thing is on the side of the angels.


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