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McMurdo Station from Observation Hill.
McMurdo Station from above

McMurdo Station is an American Antarctic research center located on the southern tip of Ross Island on the shore of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. It is operated by the United States through the United States Antarctic Program, a branch of the National Science Foundation. The station is the largest community in Antarctica, capable of supporting up to 1,258 residents,[1] and serves as the U.S.' Antarctic science facility, and the logistics base for half the continent.[citation needed] All personnel and cargo going to or coming from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station first pass through McMurdo.



The station owes its designation to nearby McMurdo Sound, named for Lieutenant Archibald McMurdo of HMS Terror, which first charted the area in 1841 under the command of British explorer James Clark Ross. British explorer Robert Falcon Scott first established a base close to this spot in 1902 and built Discovery Hut, still standing adjacent to the harbour at Hut Point. The volcanic rock of the site is the southern-most bare ground accessible by ship in the Antarctic ("Facts About the United States Antarctic Program"). The United States officially opened its first station at McMurdo on February 16, 1956. Founders initially called the station Naval Air Facility McMurdo.

McMurdo became the center of scientific and logistical operations during the International Geophysical Year, an international scientific effort that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. The Antarctic Treaty, now signed by over 45 nations, regulates international relations with respect to Antarctica and governs the conduct of daily life at McMurdo for United States Antarctic Program (USAP) participants. The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System or ATS, was opened for signature on December 1, 1959, and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961.

On March 3, 1962 operators activated a nuclear power plant at the station. The plant, like nearby Scott's Discovery Hut, was prefabricated in modules. Engineers designed the components to weigh no more than 30,000 pounds (13,608 kg) each and to measure no more than 8 ft 8 inches by 8 ft 8 inches by 30 feet. The size restriction allowed, if necessary, shipment by the Hercules LC-130 aircraft via an ice runway at the adjacent Williams Field. A single core no larger than an oil drum served as the heart of the nuclear reactor. Reportedly, the reactor replaced the need for 1,500 US gallons (1,200 imp gal; 5,700 L) of oil daily.[2] Engineers applied the reactor's power, for instance, in producing steam for the salt water distillation plant. The U.S. Army Nuclear Power Program decommissioned the plant in 1972.

A 10K-AT "Adverse Terrain" forklift moves a loaded cargo sled as part of Operation Deep Freeze resupply mission.

Contemporary function and history

A scene at McMurdo Station.

Today, McMurdo Station is Antarctica's largest community and a functional, modern day science station, which includes a harbour, 3 airfields[3] (2 seasonal), a heliport and over 100 buildings, including the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center and a bowling alley with an antique Brunswick manual pinset machine, which was condemned in 2008 for structural fatigue and has since been torn down. The station is also home to the continent's only ATM, provided by Wells Fargo Bank. The primary focus of the work done at McMurdo Station is science, but most of the residents (approximately 1,000 in the summer and fewer than 200 in the winter) are not scientists, but station personnel who are there to provide support for operations, logistics, information technology, construction, and maintenance.

Scientists and station personnel at McMurdo are participants in the USAP, which co-ordinates research and operational support in the region. Aside from Werner Herzog's 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World, reports on the life and culture of McMurdo Station from the point of view of residents are rare.

This 1983 image of the USNS Southern Cross at McMurdo Station depicts cargo operations on a floating ice pier. Such piers have been in use since 1973.
The M/V American Tern being led by the Russian icebreaker Krasin to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze 2006. Mount Erebus can be seen in the background.
The supply ship M/V American Tern during cargo operations at McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze 2007. The square building in the foreground is Discovery Hut.

An annual sealift by cargo ships as part of Operation Deep Freeze delivers 8 million US gallons (6.6 million imperial gallons/42 million L) of fuel and 11 million pounds (5 million kg) of supplies and equipment for McMurdo residents.[4] The ships are operated by the U.S. Military Sealift Command and are crewed by civilian mariners. Cargo may range from mail, construction materials, trucks, tractors, dry and frozen food, to scientific instruments. United States Coast Guard icebreakers break a ship channel through ice-clogged McMurdo Sound in order for supply ships to reach Winter Quarters Bay at McMurdo. Additional supplies and personnel are flown in to nearby Williams Field from Christchurch, New Zealand. A variety of fruits and vegetables are grown in a hydroponic green house at the station.

Between 1962 and 1963 28 Arcas sounding rockets were launched from McMurdo Station.[5]

McMurdo Station is about 3 miles (5 km) from Scott Base, the New Zealand science station, and the entire island is located within a sector claimed by New Zealand, though this claim is not recognized by most countries. Recently there has been criticism leveled at the base regarding its construction projects, particularly the McMurdo-(Admunsen-Scott) South Pole highway. [6]

McMurdo has attempted to improve environmental management and waste removal over the past decade in order to adhere to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed October 4, 1991 and entered into force January 14, 1998. This agreement prevents development and provides for the protection of the Antarctic environment through five specific annexes on marine pollution, fauna, and flora, environmental impact assessments, waste management, and protected areas. It prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources except scientific. A new waste treatment facility was built at McMurdo in 2003, that greatly exceeds the requirements of the treaty. McMurdo (nicknamed "Mac-Town" by its residents) continues to operate as the hub for American activities on the Antarctic continent.

McMurdo Station briefly gained global notice when an anti-war protest was held on February 15, 2003. During the rally, about 50 scientists and station personnel gathered to protest the coming invasion of Iraq by the United States. McMurdo Station was the only Antarctic location to hold such a rally.


McMurdo, for a time, had Antarctica's only television station, AFAN-TV, running vintage programs provided by the military. The station's equipment was susceptible to "electronic burping" from the diesel generators that provide electricity in the outpost. The station was profiled in a 1974 article in TV Guide magazine. Now, McMurdo receives three channels of the US Military's American Forces Network[citation needed], the Australia Network, and New Zealand news broadcasts. Television broadcasts are received by satellite at Black Island, and transmitted 25 miles (40 km) by digital microwave to McMurdo.

McMurdo Station receives both Internet and voice communications by satellite communications with NASA's NPOESS Satellite. A satellite dish at Black Island provides 20Mbit/s Internet connectivity and voice communications. Voice communications are tied into the Raytheon Polar Services Company's headquarters in Centennial, Colorado providing inbound and outbound calls to McMurdo from the US.

Points of interest

Facilities worthy of note at the station include:

In popular culture



  • McMurdo Station is referred to in the science fiction movies Dark Star and Alien as being the site of a major space-traffic control center.
  • McMurdo Station is mentioned in John Carpenter's The Thing and in the American adventure film Eight Below.
  • In Stargate SG-1 McMurdo is mentioned as a staging area for Earth's squadrons of F-302 fighters. Also in the same series, 50 miles (80 km) from the station is the location of Earth's second Stargate, left over from an Ancient site that was once the location of Atlantis. John Sheppard of Stargate Atlantis was transferred here after disobeying orders in Afghanistan, and the base is also mentioned in the movie Stargate: Continuum.
  • Werner Herzog's 2007 documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, deals almost exclusively with individuals living at the McMurdo research station.
  • Anne Aghion's 2009 documentary, Ice People, is an exploration of Antarctica with scientists Allan Ashworth and Adam Lewis researching the discovery of 13.9 million-year-old moss fossils and the proof of climate change with the help of the McMurdo Station Staff.

See also


  1. ^ 4.0 Antarctica - Past and Present
  2. ^ Clarke, Peter McFerrin (1966). On the ice. Burdette. 
  3. ^ Miguel Llanos (2007-01-25). "Reflections from time on 'the Ice'". MSNBC. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  4. ^ Modern Marvels: Sub-Zero. The History Channel.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  • United States Antarctic Research Program Calendar 1983
  • "Facts About the United States Antarctic Research Program." Division of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation; July 1982.
  • Clarke, Peter; On the Ice. Rand McNally & Company, 1966

External links

Coordinates: 77°51′S 166°40′E / 77.85°S 166.667°E / -77.85; 166.667

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