Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Observation Hill overlooks McMurdo Station, photo courtesy Regina Eisert

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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grapes with the apes

Settling In
September 8, 2006

After my pre-arrival briefing, we had lunch and took our bags to our assigned dorm rooms. I am in dorm 208 and share with one other person. The dorms are basic, but definitely OK, and most importantly, they are warm. The food is great—the WINFLY planes brought in a lot of "freshies"—and the dining area (called the galley) is spacious and has a great view, when there is a view.

I unpacked my bags, moved my electronic and camera gear to my new office in Crary Lab, got hooked up to the Internet by the friendly IT staff, and was all set!

The next day, Sunday, I went to brunch (great food). It was a little ridiculous how much gear I had to pile on to get across to the galley from my dorm.

Photo courtesy Regina Eisert
Cara Sucher, Lab Manager

The rest of the day I spent exploring around the Crary Lab and the station. I met the lab manager, Cara Sucher, who is an accomplished Antarctic photographer. Taking advantage of my less-than-lucid state (I was still a little foggy from traveling), Cara talked me into given a science lecture. These are held on Sunday nights for the entertainment of the station. I'll let you know how it goes.

It's Monday now and I had my "science brief" this morning. I got to meet all the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Raytheon Polar Services Co. staff who are in charge of various things we will need, such as food, radios, snowmobiles, generators, and lab space. I also met the NSF representative and station manager. My job (and the reason why I'm down here early) is to try to prepare everything for our expedition, so when the rest of the team arrives at mainbody we can get out into the field as soon as possible. Even though the seals won't be here for another month or so, I don't think I'll run of things to do anytime soon.

Crary Lab at McMurdo Station
Photo courtesy National Science Foundation

After lunch, Cara showed me around the Crary Lab. It's a very impressive facility with extensive instrumentation and everything one would expect in a modern laboratory. Unlike other laboratories, nothing is allowed down the sink and there are very stringent procedures to deal with spills, radiation, and the disposal of chemicals and other waste materials. My office is number 114 in the Biology Pod (cool, hmm?). I guess I am now a pod person. I'll keep you posted!

Some initial impressions of life at McMurdo Station:

  1. the offensive boots It is frowned upon to actually be seen in the ECW gear issued in CHCH, with the exception of our red parkas. After a dozen people had asked me in the galley why I was still wearing my bunny boots, I finally broke down, swapped my windproof pants for jeans, and borrowed a pair of less visually offensive (and less warm) sorrel boots (thanks, Peggy!). Talk about peer pressure.
  2. People hug a lot.
  3. Almost everybody on station seems to be an artist or artisan. Everywhere I look, artwork is displayed both casually (poetry carved on a wooden bridge) and formally (artwork graces the walls of all public buildings). I don't know whether the magic of The Ice awakens dormant creativity, whether it simply is a result of enforced boredom of over-wintering at the ends of the earth, or whether the folks who are drawn to the bright and fiercely beautiful South* have more latent creative spirit than other people.

When I step out of the galley into the early dusk, I see abstract sculptures that the wind has made from snow and volcanic dust and watch the ice crystals flow like a swift river along the streets of this town. Maybe one can't help being an artist in this place.

* What I am alluding to is:

O tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each,
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South,
And dark and true and tender is the North.

This is from Part IV of "The Princess" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, who also provided my all-time favourite Antarctic quote (in "Ulysses"):

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The last line in this stanza is inscribed on the wooden cross atop Obervation Hill commemorating Scott's polar explorations.

Regina Eisert
McMurdo Station