The April flight departed on April 16, bringing McMurdo’s population down to 133, the lowest it’s been since I’ve been here and likely the lowest it will be all year.
According to the National Science Foundation, McMurdo’s population, plus South Pole’s winter population of 40 and Palmer Station’s 33 means there are now just 206 employees of the United States Antarctic Program living in Antarctica.
I am one of those 206. And one of McMurdo’s 133.
And of our 133 residents, only 28 are women. Men now outnumber us almost six to one, whereas it was not quite three to one in summer.
We had the last sunrise until August on April 24. It was a trip to see the sun rise, glide lazily over the horizon, and then set an hour later. Even though the sun doesn’t rise we still get several hours of twilight in the middle of the day, when McMurdo is bathed in a deep blue light, reminding me of the white nights I saw in southern Norway around the summer solstice in 2014. The polar nights haven’t gotten to me too bad, although it’s getting harder and harder to haul myself out of bed every morning, no matter how much sleep I got. I now have a UV light on my bedside table and my desk at work, and we have a light room in one of the dorms, which has couches, fake plants, and a some books.
I haven’t felt any Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I do think the darkness is affecting my mood. Polar T3 Syndrome, also known as “The Antarctic Stare,” is a medical condition that affects people living in polar regions in winter, and can cause irritability, fatigue, and forgetfulness. I don’t think I have it (yet), but I do sometimes feel my 6.5 months here wearing on me. It may also be 6.5 months of cafeteria food, the fact that I haven’t had a fresh salad in a month and won’t get another one until late June, or just the fact that I sometimes feel like a goldfish swimming in a little fishbowl in the underworld.
My winter friends and I, we are the gods of the underworld.
I look forward to seeing summer contractors returning and feeling just a little more hardcore than they are 🙂