Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



NSF Polar Program

U.S. Antarctic Program

The National Zoo's Antarctica Expedition is sponsored by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.

All photographs depicting Weddell seals were taken under NMFS Permit No. 763-1485-00 issued under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.




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Do We have Enough Toilet Paper?
Friday, July 28, 2006

Here I am, sitting at my desk at the Zoo in Washington, D.C. I have 16 days to go before my departure. It’s mindnumbingly hot outside (in the 90s, and D.C.’s famous humidity). I am comparing the lists of expedition supplies we requested with the list of expedition supplies we are supposed to receive. Unfortunately, both are in what seems to be random order, and a different random order for that matter…this is very tedious!

Even though I have traveled to Antarctica before, I am amazed at the amount of stuff required to set up a team of eight in the field. Just as an example

  • I have requested bamboo flags (black, green, red, 50 each)
  • crampons (did I get everybody’s shoe size right?)
  • fire extinguishers (Antarctica’s the driest place on Earth, and fire is an ever-present hazard)
  • ice axes
  • rope
  • garbage bags
  • tape (scotch, electrical, duct and metal)
  • a GPS unit
  • ten chairs—I originally asked for more chairs but the logistics provider quibbled with me about the number of chairs being significantly greater than the number of people in the camp. Ah well, can’t argue with that.

The way it works in the U.S. Antarctic Program is that we get all our gear, from matches to snowmobiles, from four different sources:

  1. It is automatically provided to our party, such as cold-weather clothing and food
  2. We request items available at McMurdo Station, such as snowmobiles or tents
  3. We request that the logistics provider buy supplies for us (e.g. we asked for a refrigerated centrifuge)
  4. We bring it ourselves, shipped to Antarctica as ‘science cargo’.

The vast majority of things we need, we have to request or bring ourselves. As a result, somebody has to keep track of all the supplies. This is the least glorious part of any expedition, but one of its most vital. What if we get into the field and I forgot to request enough fuel for the stove, or enough toilet paper, for that matter?

Unlike the first explorers, we won’t be completely stuck—we will be quite close to the American base, McMurdo Station, and will be able to request supplies. Still, having to get supplies will waste time, and may not be possible at all if the weather is bad.

Regina Eisert
Washington, D.C.