Vessel season is the busiest time of year at McMurdo Station. For about two weeks from late January into early February, five enormous ships come to McMurdo Station to bring in cargo and fuel to last McMurdo Station, New Zealand’s Scott Base, South Pole, and field camps for the next twelve months, and also take away waste.

I don’t know how much waste they take away, but one of the vessel folks told me the cargo vessel Ocean Giant brings in three million pounds of cargo.

The process starts with the arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, the Polar Star. The Polar Star sails from California to New Zealand and down to McMurdo Station and breaks up the sea ice around Ross Island. It then spends several days moving back and forth in the sea ice for a mile or so, breaking up more ice and creating a channel and a “turning basin” which will allow the other ships to arrive, dock at the pier for a few days, and perform offloading and unloading operations.

The Polar Star was docked at McMurdo for several days, and had several tours. It was really cool to see the inside of that ship.

Then the US Antarctica Program’s two research vessels, the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the Lawrence M. Gould came by for science operations, resupply, and picking up and dropping off a few passengers.

Then the mighty, hulking, biggest-ship-I’ve ever-seen-up-close Ocean Giant came in, and the cargo and supply departments at McMurdo commenced 24/7 offload of cargo and onload of waste to be shipped back to California. There were shipping containers (we call them “milvans” here) everywhere. Milvans for DAYS!

It’s the biggest “pack it in, pack it out” operation you will ever see.

The last vessel, the Maersk Perry fuel tanker, is currently here for another few days. Since the fuel department is the only work center that has to handle the Maersk Perry, life at McMurdo has quieted down a lot. The hundred or so folks from the Navy who have been here are also starting to leave. A week or so ago our population went above 900 for the first time this season, and the galley was just a little too crowded for my taste. The Internet was also the slowest it’s ever been.


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