McMurdo Station

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McMurdo Station, Ross Island is located in Antarctica
McMurdo Station, Ross Island
McMurdo Station, Ross Island
McMurdo Station, Ross Island (Antarctica)
McMurdo Station from Observation Hill
McMurdo Station from above

McMurdo Station is a U.S. Antarctic research center located on the southern tip of Ross Island, which is in the New Zealand-claimed Ross Dependency 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 United States Antarctic science facility. 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 after Lieutenant Archibald McMurdo of H.M.S. 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 southernmost bare ground accessible by ship in the Antarctic. The United States officially opened its first station at McMurdo on Feb. 16, 1956. Founders initially called the station Naval Air Facility McMurdo. On Nov. 28, 1957, Admiral George J. Dufek was present with a U.S. congressional delegation during a change of command ceremony.[2]

McMurdo became the center of scientific and logistical operation during the International Geophysical Year,[2] an international scientific effort that lasted from July 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 1958. The Antarctic Treaty, now signed by over forty-five governments, regulates intergovernmental relations with respect to Antarctica and governs the conduct of daily life at McMurdo for United States Antarctic Program (U.S.A.P.) participants. The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), was opened for signature on Dec. 1, 1959, and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961.

The first scientific diving protocols were established prior to 1960 and the first diving operations were documented in November 1961.[3] A hyperbaric chamber is available for support of polar diving operations.[3]

Nuclear power 1962-1972[edit]

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 thirty feet. A single core no larger than an oil drum served as the heart of the nuclear reactor. These size and weight restrictions were intended to allow the reactor to be delivered in an LC-130 Hercules aircraft. However, the components were actually delivered by vessel.[4] The reactor generated 1.8 MW of electrical power[5] and reportedly replaced the need for 1,500 US gallons (5,700 L) of oil daily.[6] Engineers applied the reactor's power, for instance, in producing steam for the salt water distillation plant. As a result of continuing safety issues, the U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program decommissioned the plant in 1972. After the nuclear power station was no longer operational, conventional diesel generators were used. There were a number of 500 kW diesel generators located in a central powerhouse providing electric power. A conventionally fueled water desalination plant provided fresh water.

1974 winter[edit]

In 1974, the last LC-130 flight left in late February and did not return for regular service until the ice runway was operational in October. There was a single flight in early September (an LC-130 of VXE-6, Antarctic Development Squadron Six) to bring in US Navy support personnel to prepare the annual sea ice runway and to bring in mail and fresh vegetables. In August 1974, a New Zealand P3 Orion airplane flew to McMurdo and dropped mail via parachute and then returned to New Zealand. During this time, the residents' only contact with the outside world was via the Navy shortwave radio and teletype system, the military MARS radio system, and amateur radio, which allowed residents to talk to anyone by telephone via mainland amateur radio operators' phone patches.[citation needed]

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

Contemporary functions[edit]

McMurdo Station in November 2003.

Today, McMurdo Station is Antarctica's largest community and a functional, modern-day science station, which includes a harbour, three airfields[7] (two seasonal), a heliport and more than 100 buildings, including the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center. 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 other personnel at McMurdo are participants in the USAP, which co-ordinates research and operational support in the region. 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.

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 U.S. gallons (6.6 million imperial gallons/42 million liters) of fuel and 11 million pounds (5 million kg) of supplies and equipment for McMurdo residents.[8] The ships are operated by the U.S. Military Sealift Command but are manned by civilian mariners. Cargo may range from mail, construction materials, trucks, tractors, dry and frozen food, to scientific instruments. U.S. 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.[9]

McMurdo Station is about two miles (3 km) from Scott Base, the New Zealand science station, and the entire island is located within a sector claimed by New Zealand. Recently there has been criticism leveled at the base regarding its construction projects, particularly the McMurdo-(Amundsen-Scott) South Pole highway.[10]

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 Oct. 4, 1991, and entered into force Jan. 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.[citation needed] 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.[11]

Scientific diving operations continue with 10,859 dives having been conducted under the ice from 1989 to 2006.[3]


With all months having an average temperature below freezing, McMurdo features a polar ice cap climate (Köppen EF). However, in the warmest months (December and January) the temperature may occasionally be above freezing. The place is protected from cold waves from the interior of Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains, so temperatures below -40° are rare, compared to more exposed places like Neumayer Station, which usually gets those temperatures a few times every year, often as early as May, and sometimes even as early as April. It also allows temperatures above 0 °C (32 °F) to be achieved quite often in the summer, unlike Neumayer Station, which very rarely gets above 0 °C, due to it being cooled by cold air masses from the interior. The highest temperature ever recorded was 10.5°C (50.9 Fahrenheit) on December 30, 2001.

Climate data for McMurdo Station
Record high °C (°F)8.3
Average high °C (°F)−0.2
Daily mean °C (°F)−2.9
Average low °C (°F)−5.5
Record low °C (°F)−15.0
Precipitation mm (inches)15.0
Snowfall cm (inches)6.6
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)
Avg. snowy days12.817.617.816.416.215.615.314.513.314.513.513.8181.3
 % humidity66.765.266.666.664.262.460.263.455.861.464.767.063.7
Source #1: Cool Antarctica[12]
Source #2: NOAA (extremes and precipitation and snowy days data 1961−1986)[13]


This 1983 image of the USNS Southern Cross at McMurdo Station shows cargo operations on a floating ice pier. Such piers have been in use since 1973.
Byrd Historic Monument
Nuclear reactor commemorative plaque

For a time, McMurdo 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 via the Optus D1 satellite and relayed to Sydney, Australia.[14][15] A satellite dish at Black Island provides 20 Mbit/s Internet connectivity and voice communications. Voice communications are tied into the United States Antarctic Program headquarters in Centennial, Colorado, providing inbound and outbound calls to McMurdo from the US.



McMurdo is serviced seasonally by three airports:


McMurdo has the world's most southerly harbor. A multitude of on- and off-road vehicles transport people and cargo around the station area, including Ivan the Terra Bus. There is a road from McMurdo to the South Pole, the South Pole Traverse.

Historic sites[edit]

Byrd Monument: The Richard E. Byrd Historic Monument was erected at McMurdo in 1965. It comprises a bronze bust on black marble, 150 cm (5 ft) x 60 cm (2.0 ft) square, on a wooden platform, bearing inscriptions describing the polar exploration achievements of Richard E. Byrd. It has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 54), following a proposal by the United States to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.[16]

Nuclear Power Plant Plaque: The bronze plaque is about 45 cm × 60 cm (18 in × 24 in) in size, and is secured to a large vertical rock half way up the west side of Observation Hill, at the former site of the PM-3A nuclear power reactor at McMurdo Station. The inscription details the achievements of Antarctica’s first nuclear power plant. It has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 85), following a proposal by the United States to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.[16]

Points of interest[edit]

Facilities worthy of note at the station include:

Annotated view over the Station, also showing Scott Base and the McMurdo Ice Shelf

In popular culture[edit]


Film and television[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 4.0 Antarctica - Past and Present
  2. ^ a b "US Antarctic Base Has Busy Day". Google News Archive. Spartanburg Herald-Journal. November 29, 1957. Retrieved 7 July 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Pollock, Neal W (2007). "Scientific diving in Antarctica: history and current practice.". Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine 37: 204–11. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Rejcek, Peter (June 25, 2010). "Powerful reminder: Plaque dedicated to former McMurdo nuclear plant marks significant moment in Antarctic history". The Antarctic Sun. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  5. ^ Priestly, Rebecca (January 7, 2012). "The wind turbines of Scott Base". The New Zealand Listener. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ Clarke, Peter McFerrin (1966). On the ice. Burdette. 
  7. ^ Miguel Llanos (2007-01-25). "Reflections from time on 'the Ice'". MSNBC. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  8. ^ Modern Marvels: Sub-Zero. The History Channel.
  9. ^ "McMurdo Station". Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  10. ^ Moss, Stephen (January 24, 2003). "No, not a ski resort - it's the south pole". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Protest photos". PunchDown. Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  12. ^ "Antarctica Climate data and graphs, South Pole, McMurdo and Vostok". 
  13. ^ "McMurdo Sound Climate Normals 1961−1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 19, 2014. 
  14. ^ Optus D1 satellite to provide critical link to Antarctica and to help monitor our changing Earth. ” (September 20, 2007). Retrieved 2013-08-06
  15. ^ Wolejsza, C.; Whiteley, D.; Paciaroni, J. (2010). “McMurdo Communications Architecture for Polar Environmental Satellite Data Retrieval.” Retrieved 2013-08-06
  16. ^ a b "List of Historic Sites and Monuments approved by the ATCM (2012)". Antarctic Treaty Secretariat. 2012. Retrieved 2014-01-03. 
  17. ^ "Ross Island DGC". DGCourseReview. Retrieved 3 September 2013. 


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 77°51′S 166°40′E / 77.850°S 166.667°E / -77.850; 166.667