Author Archives: Angela Bai

Quirky McMurdo

Our field season falls near the height of the austral summer. As we are far below the Antarctic Circle, we get 24 hours of sunlight per day. Not only do the ~900 summer residents of McMurdo have to adjust to the remoteness of the location, they must also reconcile with the strangeness of passing time under perpetual sunlight. Those who are crazy enough to plant themselves in such a place take pride in their weirdness and go above and beyond to make this ecosystem thrive.

It’s immediately evident that McMurdoans have a quirky sense of humor, and they’re not afraid to show it. Hidden among announcements of upcoming helo schedules and base-wide maintenance events are little gems of humor that never fail to bring a smile to my face.

IMG_0524smFigure 1. Make sure you stay safe. 

IMG_3591smFigure 2. We don’t want to spook them! 

IMG_3709Figure 3. Your daily dose of poetic desperation. 

IMG_3731Figure 4. Specializing in Cool Ranch flavor

A serendipitous conversation with Dave, a military Chaplain deployed here for the season, revealed how truly wonderful this community is. Because it is so difficult to obtain employment here, people who do get to work here radiate extraordinary passion and vibrancy. Not only do they express their colors without fear, they strive to create a warm place that encourages everyone here to do the same. Just a couple days here, and I’m already in love with this place!

A “warm” welcome from Provost Groves

We arrived at McMurdo (finally) after the longest day, which started at 4:00 AM and included 8-hour flight followed by a 1-hour drive. We got the most amazing welcome from Provost Groves.  He’s so personable, funny, and genuinely curious!  He was inspecting McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott as a member of the National Science Board. In the interests of this responsibility, he visited scientists of all stripes at both stations, and he even took a Georgetown banner to the South Pole! I was moved by the probing and insightful questions he asked us and all the scientists here. It’s clear that he cares deeply about scientific endeavors both at Georgetown and in the world at large, and that he does not dismiss these visits as merely duties but as the opportunity to have meaningful conversations about scientific progress and potential. I’m thankful for Provost Groves as well as the other NSB members for their unceasing support of the work that we do!

DSC_1356Figure 1: With Provost Groves (and Rear Admiral Byrd)!


Altogether, accounting for both flying time and layovers, we’ve already been on the move for

2 + 6 + 2 + 13 + 3 + 1.5 = 27.5 hours

from Washington, D.C. to Christchurch, New Zealand. Flights and airports disorient all senses of space and time; we become more anonymous while we traverse time zones and distorted political borders. It’s an apt preview of the transcendence of our destination. Under the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica does not belong to any single political entity. The continent spans all 24 time zones, yet it can be continuously illuminated or dark for months at a time. Facing nature in its rawest form, we will indeed be reminded of our anonymity as we coexist with the cornucopia of flora, fauna, and microbiota on Earth.

Christchurch is a beautiful city located on South Island in New Zealand. We stopped here to regroup, rest, and get our government issued Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing. We were delayed for 24 hours so we had some extra time to catch up on sleep and get to know a vibrantly hip and deeply resilient locale.

IMG_3307 editedsmFigure 1. All the gear we need to survive in Antarctica! Far left: Big Red, the canonical parka for all US Antarctic Program grantees and personnel.


IMG_3280 editedsmFigure 2. A little garden across from the Canterbury Museum, which documents Māori history and British colonization of New Zealand. 


IMG_3381 editedsmFigure 3. Re:START, the mall built from upcycled shipping containers. 


IMG_3459 editedsmFigure 4. On exhibit at the Christchurch Art Gallery; it’s built from 0.5 mm pencil lead!