U.S. STATIONS AND CAMPS IN ANTARCTICA
Latitude and longitude explained. The "Facts about the U.S. Antarctic Program" book uses the word "degrees" in two ways. In "Physical Description of Antarctica" (FACTS_01) you saw "degrees Celsius," which is a measure of temperature. Now you will see "degrees" used to show where a place is on the surface of the Earth. If you have a globe, this will be easy.
First, latitude. Lines of latitude circle the globe parallel to each other. Zero degrees latitude is the Equator. Each degree is divided into 60 minutes, shown by an apostrophe ('). The S means South. So, looking at the paragraph heading below, McMurdo is 77 degrees and 51 minutes south of the Equator. All the degrees of latitude except 90 are a circle. Ninety degrees of latitude is a point at one of the Earth's poles.
Navigator's hint. One degree of latitude is 60 nautical miles. Thus 1 minute of latitude is 1 nautical mile. A nautical mile is 1.15 statute (land) miles.
Now longitude. Lines of longitude circle the Earth too, but all of them pass through the south pole and the north pole. Zero degrees longitude passes through Greenwich, England, because a famous observatory is there. The lines of longitude go from 0 degrees either east (E) or west (W) of Greenwich to 180 degrees.
A. McMurdo (77 degrees 51'S 166 degrees 40'E)
The largest antarctic station, McMurdo is built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, the farthest south solid ground that is accessible by ship.
The station was established in December 1955. It is the logistics hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program, with a harbor, landing strips on sea ice and shelf ice, and a helicopter pad. Its 85 or so buildings range in size from a small radio shack to large, three-story structures. Repair facilities, dormitories, administrative buildings, a firehouse, power plant, water distil- lation plant, wharf, stores, clubs, and warehouses are linked by above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines.
The Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center at McMurdo was dedicated in November 1991. The laboratory is named in honor of geophysicist and glaciologist Albert P. Crary (1911-1987), the first person to set foot on both the North and South Poles. The new laboratory contains state-of-the-art instrumentation to facilitate research and to advance science and technology. It contains modern personal computers and workstations, a computer- based geographic information system, and a local area network. It has laboratory space, analytical instrumentation, and staging areas for a wide range of scientific disciplines. The laboratory also supports special activities, including environmental monitoring and enforcement, snow and ice mechanics, and meteorology. The facility replaces outdated science buildings that were built as early as 1959.
The Crary Lab has five pods built in three phases to make 4,320 square meters of working area. Phase I has a two-story core pod and a biology pod. Phase II has earth sciences and atmospheric sciences pods. Phase III has an aquarium and a dive locker. Other facilities are maintained for atmospheric sciences and other disciplines.
Williams Field, a skiway 16 kilometers from McMurdo on the Ross Ice Shelf, is the aerodrome for ski-equipped airplanes. Wheeled airplanes use a harder, smoother runway on sea ice in October and November and into December, when the sea ice usually begins to break up and become unusable. A permanent, hard-ice runway for wheeled planes--the Pegasus site on the Ross Ice Shelf--was completed in 1992 and can be used in all but the warmest months.
Recorded temperature extremes have been -50 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius. Annual mean is -18 degrees Celsius; monthly mean temperatures range from -3 degrees Celsius in January to -28 degrees Celsius in August.
Drifting snow can accumulate about 1.5 meters per year, although the station becomes snow-free in summer. Average wind is about 5.1 meters per second; a gust of 52 meters per second was recorded in July 1968.
Research is performed at and near McMurdo in marine and terrestrial biology, biomedicine, geology and geophysics, glaciology and glacial geology, meteorology, aeronomy, and upper atmosphere physics.
Peak summer population can exceed 1,100; winter population is about 250. The winterers are isolated from late February to late August.
Air transportation to New Zealand is frequent between October and February--the antarctic summer.
Local features include Mount Erebus (an active volcano), McMurdo Sound (the station's namesake, named for Lt. Archibald McMurdo of James Clark Ross's 1841 expedition), the Ross Ice Shelf, and the ice-free (dry) valleys of southern Victoria Land.
B. Amundsen-Scott South Pole (90 degrees S)
Americans have occupied the geographic South Pole continuously since November 1956; the central area of the station was rebuilt in 1975 as a geodesic dome 50 meters wide and 16 meters high that, with 14- by 24-meter steel archways, covers modular buildings, fuel bladders, and equipment. Detached buildings house instruments for monitoring the upper and lower atmosphere and for numerous and complex projects in astronomy and astrophysics. There is an emergency camp. A number of science and berthing structures were added in the 1990s, particularly for astronomy and astrophysics. Some 28 scientists and support personnel winter at the station, and 130 or more people work there during the summer. The station's winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October.
Recorded temperature has varied between -13.6 degrees Celsius and -82.8 degrees Celsius. Annual mean is -49 degrees Celsius; monthly means vary from -28 degrees Celsius in December to -60 degrees Celsius in July. Average wind is 5.5 meters per second; peak gust recorded was 24 meters per second. Snow accumulation is about 6-8 centimeters (water equivalent) per year. The station stands at an elevation of 2,835 meters on interior Antarctica's nearly featureless ice sheet, about 2,850 meters thick at that location.
Research at the station includes glaciology, geophysics, meteorology, upper atmosphere physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and biomedical studies.
The station's name honors Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott, who attained the South Pole in 1911 and 1912.
C. Palmer (64 degrees 46'S 64 degrees 03'W)
Palmer Station, on a protected harbor on the southwestern coast of Anvers Island, off the Antarctica Peninsula, is the only U.S. antarctic station north of the Antarctic Circle. The temperature is mild, with monthly averages ranging from -10 degrees Celsius in July and August to 2 degrees Celsius in January and February. The annual mean is -3 degrees Celsius. The extreme range is -31 degrees Celsius to 9 degrees Celsius. It has rained every month at Palmer; in the year ended October 1981 Palmer received 25 centimeters of rain and 36 centimeters (water equivalent) of snowfall.
The station, built on solid rock, consists of two major buildings and three small ones plus two large fuel tanks, a helicopter pad, and a dock. Construction was completed in 1968, replacing a prefabricated wood structure (``Old Palmer,'' established in 1965) 2 kilometers away across Arthur Harbor. Old Palmer has been disassembled and removed from Antarctica. Somewhat over 40 people can occupy Palmer in the summer. Wintering population is about 10, although Palmer does not have a long period of winter isolation as do McMurdo and South Pole.
Palmer Station is superbly located for biological studies of birds, seals, and other components of the marine ecosystem. It has a large and extensively equipped laboratory and sea water aquaria. In 1990 it was designated by the National Science Foundation as a long term ecological research (LTER) site. Meteorology, upper atmosphere physics, glaciology, and geology also have been pursued at and around Palmer. The station operates in conjunction with a research ship described under Transportation and research platforms, below.
Palmer Station is named for Nathaniel B. Palmer, a Connecticut sealer who, on 17 November 1820, during an exploratory voyage ranging southward from the South Shetland Islands, may have been the first person to see Antarctica. (British and Russian ships were in the area at about the same time.)
A. Byrd Surface Camp (80 degrees S 120 degrees W)
On the site of the former Byrd Station (a major under-snow research facility operated year-round from early 1957 to February 1972) Byrd Surface Camp is operated during the summer as a fuel stop and weather station for planes flying between McMurdo and destinations in West Antarctica. Typical summer population is eight personnel. The camp consists of sled-mounted modules.
B. Major camps
During some summer seasons, the USA establishes and operates one or more major summer research camps in areas of particular scientific interest. Typically these camps consist of Jamesways (quickly erected structures made of canvas and wood), and they support a population of 40 to 60 during the November-January period. Helicopters or Twin Otter airplanes are taken to the site and used to support local scientific operations. Motor toboggans also are operated.
Such camps have been operated in recent years at various locations on the Siple Coast, at ``Beardmore South'' in the central Transantarctic Mountains (1985-1986), northern Victoria Land (1981-1982), the Ellsworth Mountains (1979-1980), at Darwin Glacier in the Transantarctic Mountains (1978-1979), and in the mountains of northern Marie Byrd Land (1977-1978). Geology, geophysics, glacial-geology, glaciology, and terrestrial biology have been pursued at these camps.
If summer research projects are expected to continue over several seasons at the same location, huts may be erected. Huts can be expected to last for several years, and they provide space, stable working areas, and comfort not achievable with tents. Huts have been used in recent years in Taylor Valley (an ice-free or dry valley in southern Victoria Land) for study of lake ecosystems, at Cape Crozier on Ross Island for population and behavioral studies of penguin rookeries, and near the summit of Mount Erebus for volcanology. Resupply and transport are by helicopter or tracked vehicle from McMurdo Station.
Small parties requiring temporary shelter use single- or double-walled tents of several designs, both modern and tradi- tional. These designs include the Scott tent, a pyramid shaped tent similar to the design used by Robert F. Scott early in this century. These tents are stable in high winds and can be erected quickly. Cold-weather sleeping bags are used on ground cushions, and cooking is by portable stoves. Tent camps usually are placed or moved by helicopter or motor toboggan. Extended backpacking trips generally are not practical in Antarctica owing to the weight of the equipment and the fuel required to melt ice for water, to cook, and to combat the cold. All tent camps and huts are required to have radios, and they maintain daily contact with the nearest station.
FORMER U.S. STATIONS (SELECTED)
A. Hallett Station (72 degrees 19'S 170 degrees 13'E)
On Cape Hallett on the northeast coast of Victoria Land, Hallett was operated jointly with New Zealand from 1957 to February 1973. The station initially was for geophysics, but after the IGY the predominant discipline was biology. Hallett shared a point of land with a large penguin colony. All components of the station except for a large fuel tank have been removed, and penguins have reoccupied the site.
Cape Hallett was named by James Clark Ross for a member of his 1841 expedition.
B. Byrd Station (80 degrees S 120 degrees W)
Operated year-round from 1957 to 1972, Byrd was a large under-snow facility in Marie Byrd Land for upper atmosphere physics, meteorology, geophysics, and glaciology. It was closed because the scientific usefulness of a facility at the location had diminished and because the increasing snow load was crushing the station. The station's name honors Richard E. Byrd.
C. Plateau Station (79 degrees 15'S 40 degrees 30'E)
Plateau was the highest, coldest, and most remote of the U.S. stations. It was operated from December 1965 to January 1969. Situated in the middle of the east antarctic ice plateau at an elevation of 3,625 meters, the station recorded a climate typical of several million square kilometers of central Antarctica. Temperatures ranged from -18.5 degrees Celsius down to -86.2 degrees Celsius, just short of the world record low recorded at the Russian station Vostok, Antarctica. Annual mean at Plateau was -56.4 degrees Celsius. Snow accumulation was about 3 centimeters (water equivalent) a year.
Plateau Station was established for meteorology, geophysics, and upper atmosphere physics. The station comprised five prefabricated vans assembled into a building 8 by 25 meters plus an additional van and a Jamesway for emergency shelter. A tower, 32 meters high, was equipped with 10 sensors of wind speed, wind direction, and temperature. Station population was eight during winter.
D. Dome C (74 degrees 30'S 123 degrees 10'E)
This camp was comprised of Jamesways, wood-framed and wood-floored buildings covered with insulated canvas blankets that can be erected or disassembled in several hours. The camp was in East Antarctica at an elevation of 3,425 meters. The ice at that location is over 4,200 meters thick. Dome C is one of the three major ice domes of the east antarctic ice sheet (the others are Ridge B and Dome A).
Glaciology was the major discipline pursued at Dome C, which was reached by airplane from McMurdo Station. Dome C camp was established in 1974-1975 and used for several years thereafter.
E. Siple (75 degrees 55'S 83 degrees 55'W)
In Ellsworth Land at the base of the Antarctic Peninsula, Siple was established in 1969, enlarged and first occupied year-round in 1973, and, because of high snow accumulation that distorted the original structure, built anew in 1979. It reverted to summer-only use in 1985 and was closed in 1988.
Twenty-four connected prefabricated building modules are located under a steel arch measuring 13 by 80 meters. By 1981 the annual snowfall of about 1.7 meters, along with drifting, covered the 7-meter-high arch of the new station, and by 1987 snow accumulation and pressure had brought the station near an end of its useful life.
Temperature extremes recorded at Siple were -52 degrees Celsius and 7 degrees Celsius. Annual mean was -24 degrees Celsius; monthly averages ranged from about -35 degrees Celsius in August to -12 degrees Celsius in January. Winds averaged 6.5 meters per second; a wind of 33 meters per second was recorded in October 1980. The station elevation is 1,000 meters; ice thickness is slightly less than that.
Upper atmosphere physics was pursued at Siple. The station featured a crossed horizontal antenna 42 kilometers long, a radio receiver, and a transmitter for studies in the very-low-frequency range. Siple was placed where it is for study of signals transmitted along magnetic lines of force that extend from Siple as far as four earth radii into space, returning to earth at Siple's geomagnetic conjugate point in the northern hemisphere--the thunderstorm-rich region of southeastern Quebec.
During large projects in summer, Siple's population reached 65. Wintering complement was normally seven, but as small as four.
Siple Station was named for Paul Siple, a polar expert who headed the first wintering science party at the South Pole in 1957 and first went to Antarctica as a Boy Scout with Richard E. Byrd in 1928.
F. Eights Station (75 degrees 10'S 77 degrees 10'W)
Eights was 200 kilometers east-northeast of Siple Station. It operated from January 1963 to January 1965, mainly in support of upper atmosphere physics. Station population during winter was 10-11. The station was named for James Eights, who in 1830 was the earliest American scientist in the Antarctic.
G. Little America
There were five Little Americas, all on the Ross Ice Shelf adjacent to the Bay of Whales or Kainan Bay. Numbers I and II supported Richard E. Byrd's expeditions in 1928-1930 and 1933-1935. III was operated in 1939-1941 as part of the United States Antarctic Service and was also called West Base. IV was used by Operation Highjump, 1946-1947. V was an International Geophysical Year station, operating from 1955 to 1959. The stations have gone to sea as a result of calving of the Ross Ice Shelf. In 1987 a large iceberg (designated B-9) calved from the Bay of Whales area, eliminating it, at least for several years, as a feature of the Ross Ice Shelf.
H. East Base (68 degrees 11'S 67 degrees 00'W)
East Base is the oldest existing U.S. station in Antarctica. It is on Stonington Island near Marguerite Bay, on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The United States Antarctic Service established East Base in March 1940, and 26 men wintered. There was a main building, 7 by 18 meters, and several smaller buildings along with a biplane, a tractor and a tank, and sledge dogs. The expeditioners left in March 1941. The (U.S.) Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition occupied the base during the winter of 1948. The base has not been used since then.
Americans visited East Base in February 1975 and found three of the original buildings still standing.
In 1989, at the request of the United States, the Antarctic Treaty nations declared buildings, artifacts, and their immediate environs at East Base an historic monument. U.S.-led expeditions in March 1991 and March 1992 cleaned up the station, documented its numerous artifacts, and established a small museum in one of the original buildings.