Living and Working in Antarctica (Image 13)
June 11, 2010
Living and Working in Antarctica (Image 13) The nondenominational "Chapel of the Snows" at McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica. The chapel, the third to be built at the station, was dedicated in 1989. The Chapel of the Snows--located 840 miles from the South Pole--is the world's southernmost building erected primarily for religious services. The original building plans for McMurdo from 1956, did not include a chapel; instead, religious services were to be held in the station mess hall. However, Admiral George Dufek, commander of Deep Freeze One and a speaker at the dedication ceremony of the present day chapel, remembers, "As the construction of the buildings at McMurdo progressed, a mysterious pile of lumber, planks, nails, Quonset hut sections, and assorted materials began to accumulate on a knoll overlooking the camp." Using these excess materials, a group of Seabee volunteers led by Father John C. Condit, the chaplain, decided to build a chapel on their own time after their daily duties were finished. The church, which stood on a ridge overlooking the camp, even had a bell that was salvaged from a gasoline tanker. For the next 22 years, the building would provided a place of worship for personnel from McMurdo Station and also from nearby Scott Base. Sadly, an early morning fire on Aug. 22, 1978, destroyed the building and virtually all of its contents, including historic memorabilia from Deep Freeze One and subsequent winter crews. To replace the chapel, volunteers converted a Quonset hut near the station's main building for services, and it was officially dedicated on Easter Sunday 1979. This would serve as a chapel for the next eleven years. The present day Chapel of the Snows was officially dedicated on Jan. 29, 1989. While the original chapel and the temporary building were built entirely by volunteers, the new building was constructed as part of the National Science Foundation's plan to refurbish McMurdo Station. The 2,016-square-foot wood structure contains office space, a central worship area that normally seats 63, and McMurdo's only organ. Materials to complete the building were salvaged from older structures that were ripped down during the several-year rebuilding of the station. The dedication ceremony for the new Chapel of the Snows took place on Jan. 29, 1989, and was presided over by Lt. M. Brad Yorton, chaplain of the U.S. Navy's Naval Support Force Antarctica. Attendees came from McMurdo Station and Scott Base for the hour-long ceremony. Other participants were Ronald R. La Count, senior U. S. representative in Antarctica at the time of the dedication; Captain Dwight Fisher and Commander John V. Smith, commanding officers of the Naval Support Force Antarctica (NSFA) and the Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6); Neal Terry, personnel coordinator for ITT/Antarctic Services, Inc, (NSF's support contractor); and guest speaker Father Gerard Creagh from Hoon Hay Parish in Christchurch, New Zealand. McMurdo is one of three U.S. research stations in Antarctica. The National Science Foundation operates them all. (Date of Image: 2006) [One of 38 related images. See Next Image.] More about this Series This series of images, "Living and Working in Antarctica," was compiled to give the viewer a general idea of what it's like to live and work on the coldest, windiest and harshest continent on earth. When you think of human life in Antarctica, you may think of a small number of scientists, isolated from the rest of the world, living in subzero temperatures while performing research experiments, or stationed in remote field camps living with seals and penguins. In actuality, life at the United States' research stations is much like life anywhere, with a diverse population performing day to day jobs, each important to the fabric that makes up the entire community. The United States has three year-round stations in Antarctica, all of which are funded and managed by the National Science Foundation's U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). --Palmer, located on Anvers Island just west of the Antarctic Peninsula, population 10 to 46, has two major buildings and several smaller structures, a dock, and a marine biology lab and an atmospheric research facility. --McMurdo, the operational hub and logistics center for U.S. operations, is located on a barren area of Ross Island in the southwest corner of Ross Sea, population 235 to about 1,000. The station has more than 80 buildings, including the modern Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center for research in biology, earth science, meteorology, upper atmosphere science and other disciplines. --Amundsen-Scott South Pole, built on the Antarctic ice sheet in the continental interior at the geographic South Pole, it has a population of more than 200 in the summer. Research foci include astronomy, upper atmosphere science, meteorology and glaciology. The station, which is supplied entirely by McMurdo, 729 nautical miles to the north, just finished major modernization. USAP employs many people in supporting roles to assist researchers and help maintain daily operations at the stations, on research vessels, and in remote field camps established for glaciologists, earth scientists, biologists and others. These people provide the operational support required to build and maintain a small community. Support personnel usually come during the austral summer, the period of extensive sunlight and comparative warmth that lasts roughly from October to February. The average summer temperature is around 36 degrees Fahrenheit, though temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula may go as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. These individuals are among the 3,500 Americans that will enter and leave Antarctica under the U.S. Antarctic Program over the course of the summer. USAP peak population at any given moment during the summer will be about 1,600 on land and 300 onboard the research vessels in surrounding waters. Most will leave at the end of the summer, but a small number will either stay or be replaced by others who will "winter over" for the purpose of maintaining the facilities and to service the scientific instruments so they will be ready for the following research season. The average winter population at McMurdo for example, is about 160. Wintering personnel usually stay for eight to ten months, from approximately January to October. The subzero temperatures (the coldest temperature ever recorded on earth was here--minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit), high winds and darkness of the long polar winter make travel nearly impossible. Except for a few flights, called "Winfly," in August, the winterers are isolated until October. The average workweek at the U.S. facilities lasts six to seven days because schedules are often hard to keep due to unpredictable weather and difficulties associated with transportation and communication. Housing for most participants is dormitory-style rooms with roommates and shared bathroom facilities. Personnel supporting remote field camps spend significant time in the field. Each research station is a small community with an interesting variety of jobs and activities as well as basic amenities like a general store that stocks personal articles and souvenirs, and other elements of a community like a firehouse and church. And while the work is grueling, there is some after hours recreation and entertainment, including safe hiking and cross-country skiing routes, crafts, a music room with a full selection of instruments, sports, exercise equipment, libraries, movies, a coffee house, a computer room with internet access, educational classes and science lectures. McMurdo Station even has the distinction of having one of a few remaining manually set bowling alleys in the world, circa 1961. Activities like Superbowl and holiday parties and Thanksgiving dinner help boost morale and make participants feel more at home.
Topics: Scott Base, McMurdo Station, United States Antarctic Program, Chapel of the Snows, Albert P. Crary, Winter Quarters Bay, McMurdo Sound, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica