Around this time in the McMurdo summer season, three large boats come to visit. They all serve to restock the town with supplies and food for the next year. They also take away trash, hazardous waste and gear from the year’s science experiments that need to go back to labs in the U.S. (The ice cores harvested from the West Antarctica Ice Sheet for the last 15 years or so have all traveled from Antarctica to California via a big boat. Then, they were taken across to Colorado for long term storage in a semi truck.)
But before the “vessel” — as we call it — can get to us to bring supplies and take other gear away, its way must be made by an ice cutter.
Right now, the U.S. Navy only has two ice cutters. (Although, Obama just requested funding for more.) The one that has served McMurdo is called the Polar Star. This vessel was originally built in the 1940s. It is the only ice breaker with a curved hull, rather than with a modular design that is made now. It was decommissioned for eight years before the Navy decided to refurbish it and make it sailable again.
The Polar Star spent over a week swimming around the McMurdo sound cutting its way through the ice. First, it was a speck on the horizon, then it was an orange speck on the horizon, then it was a loud lawn mower in our bay for a week.
It docked for just a couple of days and during that time, we were allowed to take tours of the ship.
Here are some photos:
After the cutter left the wharf, it stayed in the Sound until both the vessel and the tanker — the boat that refuels the station with a year’s worth of diesel — left. While the ice was plenty open, the floe can move and the cutter has to hang out just in case the vessel or the tanker gets stuck in the wharf.
And to end, I give you…more penguins!!