29 January 2009

Life on the ice: Part I

McMurdo from the sea...

So I’ve been here for over a week now, and have adjusted to life here at McMurdo.  Outside of some computing issues (more on that in the next post) and sinus problems, my stay has been uneventful.  The weather has been beautiful – there were a few cloudy days earlier this week, but otherwise sunny and low 30’s during the day, and sunny and low 20’s at night.  The sun is above the horizon 24 hours a day, but there is a small diurnal cycle, and the sun angle lowers a bit at night.  I think that “dusk” conditions begin to appear in late February before the dark winter begins to set in around late April.  This docile weather is nice for outdoor activities and just everyday life here, but boring for me.  There’s a hint of something in the forecast models on Sunday and Monday, but it’s a little early to have a good idea on that.  There was some atmospheric wave activity over the terrain features south of here the other night:

The horizontal line of clear skies is the descending air on the lee side of Minna Bluff.  It’s exciting for me to see something like this in person, that I’ve seen on satellite imagery from home many times.


Enough about weather (for the most part)…below are some details about my time here so far. 


There are several dorm buildings here, with several categories of comfort.  I am in 203c this year, which is slightly different than 208, which I was in back in 2006.  In 208 I had one roommate until he moved out about 10 days into my stay, and we shared a bathroom with another room.  There was a TV and mini fridge.  Here, I also have one roommate, but there is a communal bathroom for the floor, a mini fridge, but no TV.  It’s slightly smaller as well.  It seems to be the place where they are putting many of the short-timers and non-PI science people.  It’s not too bad.  I really haven’t watched much TV, I’ve been reading instead, which is probably good.  I just met my roommate two days ago, as he was in the field for all but three nights.  He is manager of the ice core drilling group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He went north today, so there’s a good chance I will have the room to myself for the rest of my stay.  The base is clearing out, as the field season is wrapping up and the place closes for the winter in under a month.  At peak this season there were about 950 people, down from the nearly 1200 there have been for some seasons.  Only about 150 people remain for the winter.  Here are two pictures of the room:


Food is one of the major topics of conversation here.  There are four meals here – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and “mid-rats”.  Mid-rats is midnight rations.  It is only available from 12:00-12:30 AM for those that work night shifts.  The next half hour is open game.  My hours here are approximately 1 PM to 1 AM, so I can stay out of the way of morning flight briefings in the weather office.  So lunch is my breakfast, dinner is my lunch, and mid-rats my dinner.  Sometimes they check ID cards at mid-rats, but I just go with the weather office employees and it’s no problem. 

The conversation tends to drift towards the negative end of things.  That is, if there’s a good meal, it’s not really mentioned, but people don’t hesitate to bitch about a bad one.  Then the conversation turns to how people would prepare something similar themselves, or some variation of it they really like.  Now, I can see this from those that have been here all season.  After several rotations of the same meals, it might get old pretty quick.  I think it’s the lack of choice that gets to people.  Personally, I absolutely love it here.  First of all, it is FREE.  This is saving me several hundreds of dollars for the time I am here.  You can have as much as you want – just take what you eat, and eat what you take.  And I don’t have to make it or do dishes afterwards.  Just show up, like pigs at a trough.  Second, the desserts are fantastic.  This is a widely accepted opinion, even from the seasoned personnel here.  Cheesecake, pies, cookies, on down the line.  Delicious.  Plus, there is a soft-serve ice cream machine (“Frosty Boy”), which I have probably frequented too much for my own health.  Toppings are also available. 

The mains tend to center around whole foods (a lot of chicken, to the disgrace of some), and at least to short-timers like me, there’s enough rotation.  There is always some kind of bread, a wide variety of fruit, and fresh vegetables as long as the planes are flying between here and Christchurch.  There is also a sandwich line.  There is no soda in the dining hall (only for purchase from the station store), but a wide variety of juice.  The only knock might be the lack of actual milk (it’s powdered). 

I can’t get over some of the quality of food they get down here.  Earlier this week we had cherries.  Those are what, like $6 per pound back home, and only seasonal in early summer?  And one night they had tenderloin cutlets, cooked perfectly (light red to pink on the inside).  I never buy that back home because it is so expensive.  Sunday brunch is usually amazing, with a wide selection of pastries.  I am already looking forward to surf and turf (shrimp and prime rib) on Sunday…I remember that meal fondly from last time. 

Check in next time for details of my work and other activities going on here…


Cooler Brian said...

Sweeet. Good to hear the food feeds the need; looking forward to part two: Camping Out all the time.

Karin said...

Yum! I like hearing about the food. =) Did you smuggle any rockstars in??

Sam said...

Meat pink on the inside? That's not cooked!! I like my animals dead thank-you very much :p