On the Plane

I am writing this journal while sitting on a L-100 plane, flying over Antarctica and the Southern Ocean on my way to New Zealand. The plane I was supposed to head home on yesterday, a C-130 plane, had mechanical issues. Instead I am traveling home in a South African cargo plane.

Michelle Brown in front of Cargo Plane
Michelle Brown stands in front of the cargo plane that will take her back to New Zealand.

South African cargo plane
Scientists and staff from McMurdo Station and Scott Base board the South African cargo plane--note the logo is not in English.

It is interesting to get to fly on different cargo planes. Unlike the C-17 plane I flew on to Antarctica on, this plane has seats facing forwards. Shortly after taking off, one of the two men managing our flight handed me a flashlight and asked me to check the levels of fluid through a hole behind me over the loud din of the engines. Hopefully I understood his instructions correctly!

Michelle Brown writing journal on plane
Michelle Brown writes her PolarTREC journal on the 8 hour plane ride to New Zealand. Note the gutted ceiling of the cargo plane.

A view out of the cargo plane
A view from the high window of the cargo plane reveals the mountains and ice of Antarctica.

I will arrive in New Zealand tonight and will have one day in Christchurch before flying back to Pennsylvania on December 6th.

A Busy Morning in McMurdo

Before leaving Antarctica, I had time this morning to visit a few last people and places.

The Waste Barn

After touring the utilities plants the other day, I became interested in touring the waste plant, where trash and recyclables are organized. Nikki Beard, who manages the plant, invited me to visit the building this morning.

The waste barn
It is hard to confuse the waste barn with any other building thanks to some clear signage.

On my walk up to the Waste Barn, I met a "fuelie" by the name of Lisa Keller. Fuelies are people who help keep McMurdo Station running by ensuring generators, tanks and other equipment have ample fuel in them. Lisa found an interesting pattern on the outside of a nearby fuel tank.

Lisa Keller
Lisa Keller discovers a cool pattern on the fuel container while refilling tanks.

Click on the Ice POD PowerPoint slide at the end of this journal to see a closer picture of the pattern!

Sorting Out Waste

Once inside the Fuel Barn, Nikki showed me around. Nikki and her staff build waste boxes which will be filled up with different types of refuse inside the main room in the waste barn.

Nikki and waste crew
Nikki Beard, at right stands with two other waste workers in the waste barn who are building boxes to be used around McMurdo Station.

The boxes that are built are placed around McMurdo Station for people to put sorted trash in. Waste is separated into different categories at McMurdo Station: Mixed Recycleables, Non-Recyclables, Food Waste, Biological Waste, Sanitary Waste, Cardboard, Metals (Ferrous and Non-Ferrous), Wood and Hazardous Waste (which gets processed in the Hazardous Waste yard). There are also other waste types to consider, such as solid waste, grey water, and skua (objects that can be reused at the station). Every day someone from the waste department walks around town and checks the waste bins. Those that are full are pulled out and replaced with empty boxes. Nikki estimates that the station goes through about 100 bins a day. Food Waste and Cardboard are the most frequently collected bins. Just like with Hazardous Waste, the other waste is collected and stored in big cargo containers called Milvans, which will be shipped back to California on the cargo ship.

Milvans and pallets
Pallets are stacked in piles and cargo containers line the back of the waste barn. Boxes of waste will fill the containers and be sent back to the U.S.

Nikki and the waste crew have a very important job to do! About 300 milvans of waste get shipped back each year. 65% of all the waste created at McMurdo Station gets recycled. The rates in the U.S. are much lower (around 25%). Nikki is passionate about making sure our impact here is low and is always thinking of new ways to improve the system.

Like George Ryan from the Hazardous Waste station, Nikki and the waste crew are also on the spill response team. This means that when someone spills a hazardous material, such as fuel, at McMurdo Station, Nikki comes out to help clean up the spill and makes sure the environment is not contaminated. In this sense, her work is directly connected to our research--because of the spill response team, McMurdo Station is reducing its footprint. Our research shows that the levels of pollutants are not increasing over time. Cleaning up spills is a major way that we can keep the environment from being further contaminated.

Meet Bev Walker

I also had the chance to chat with Bev Walker today, who manages all of the science groups at Crary Lab. Bev wears many hats in her position and makes sure scientists working at Crary and beyond are supported. Because of her and her team, research projects run smoothly here at McMurdo!

Bev Walker
Bev Walker manages Crary Lab to support all the science that happens there.

Bev has a background in science. As a college student, she studied marine and freshwater sciences and then pursued a graduate degree in earth and environmental sciences. Her graduate work brought her to Antarctica, where she researched how brittle sea stars were fossilized off the coast of Antarctica. When she was down here she fell in love with the diversity of science projects that occur at McMurdo Station as well as the unique personalities of people who work here.

Bev has been here for 6 years and has had many memorable experiences. She comes down at "winfly", which is the first flight onto the ice after winter. During this time there is a long sunset in the sky, with periods of darkness. One experience Bev treasures is getting to see beautiful aurora fill the sky. Bev also has been here when the sea ice by McMurdo Station has completely melted. This allowed a pod of 70 or so Minki Whales to catch a long breath of air after swimming under the sea ice, a memory that also will stay with Bev forever.

Ice Picture of the Day

Today's Ice POD is about the cool pattern found on the fueling tank outside the Waste Barn. Can you figure out what caused them? You can download the PowerPoint Slide here: 24_icepod.pptx

Ice picture of the day, Day 24
Can you figure out what created the pattern on the fuel tank?

Brought to you by...

Today's journal is brought to you by Mrs. Hovis' class from Mount Nittany Elementary School in State College, PA.

Brought to you by Ms. Hovis' class.
Today's journal is brought to you by Ms. Hovis' class from Mount Nittany Elementary School in State College, PA.

McMurdo Station
Weather Summary
Clear and Sunny
28 F
Wind Speed
8 knots
Wind Chill
20 F
Attachment Size
24_icepod.pptx3.76 MB 3.76 MB



How is it like up their what do you eat?

Janine Koch

Do you think that you could live on Antarctica for the rest of your life?


IS IT All ways cold


is it good yes or no ok and hi have is life for you my life is good ok :0

Jair JH

how do you survive there

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Adam,
We eat typical food you would find in the U.S. The galley (what we
call the cafeteria) serves a variety of foods for breakfast, lunch and
dinner. For example, you can get bacon, eggs, potatoes, pancakes, and
other breakfast foods in the morning, and lunch and dinner have pasta,
sometimes tacos or macaroni and cheese, meat, rice or potatoes and
other foods. Most times there is a salad bar, and there are always
some kind of vegetable or fruit available in McMurdo Station. Also,
there is always pizza and cookies available, along with other snacks!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Janine,

This is a great question! Although it might be possible to live on
Antarctica for the rest of my life, there are two reasons why I

First, it is not allowed. The Antarctic Treaty prohibits anyone from
claiming residency (i.e., living) on Antarctica. I believe this is to
help ensure no one claims any part of Antarctica as their home and
therefore land.

Second, I love my family far too much to be apart from them!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Cold is a relative term. What may have felt cold to me in summer in
the United States feels warm to me in Antarctica. When I arrived in
Antarctica it was 0 - 20 degrees F most days. Windchill often pushed
those temperatures lower. Although it felt cold sometimes, the sun was
out and if I was exercising, I would feel quite comfortable, maybe
even warm! Right before I left Antarctica, temperatures were rising to
20s while I was outside. Although that seems cold if you are used to
warmer temperatures, it felt quite warm to me! One day it reached 30
- 32 degrees and we all were outside without coats--some people were
even in t-shirts!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Dear Tyteanna,
Hello! I'm happy to hear your life is good and am also happy to report
mine is as well! I'm en route to Pennsylvania and although I am sad to
leave Antarctica, I am eager to be reunited with my family.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Jair,
Since I work in McMurdo Station, survival is pretty easy. We sleep in
heated dorm rooms and eat in a cafeteria. When we work outside, we
wear lots of layers to stay warm. Scientists working in field camps
or remote locations need more survival skills. In 2011 I worked out on
the ice shelf outside the South Pole, and there we had a few more
requirements to do well. First we set up a camp, including tents to
sleep in and a tent to go to the bathroom in. We also had a place to
cook food. Before going out to the camp, we brought lots of food that
we could eat. We also bring "survival bags" which have emergency gear
to ensure we are safe if a big storm comes in. We went with a field
guide who is well trained in safety. She would check the weather twice
a day and also checked in with the South Pole Station so they knew we
were safe every day. If we didn't check in, they would try to contact
us and potentially come get us. We also have satellite phones and
radios so we can contact someone if something were to have gone wrong.