Marble Point

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Friday December 21, 2001

          I have been relocated for a three-week rotation to Marble Point.  This is the site of our deep field refueling station for helicopters supporting the Dry Valleys and other field camps.  My flight from McMurdo to Marble took about 30 minutes in this ASTAR helicopter.   Along the way we flew over McMurdo Sound, which provided us with fantastic views of Mt. Erebus and icebergs that have been frozen into the sea.  My pilot pointed out Marble camp as we made our initial approach.  It took me a while to locate the camp myself.  As you can see from the air it hides its self quite well in the expanse of Antarctica.


During the early part of the season supplies of construction material, fuel, food, and scientific equipment are driven across the frozen Ross Sea to be staged at Marble Point for future flights to various field camps.  The journey in a cargo Delta or a Challenger towing sleds takes about 6 hours.  The red line on the map marks the route that is made from McMurdo.  Instead of road signs the drivers rely on GPS to navigate their way.  Advanced transport of supplies is more cost effective than the numerous shuttles it would take the helloes to deliver the same loads. 


My job during the 3 weeks was to refuel the helicopters shuttling scientists and cargo throughout the area.  My days filled very quickly here with the helicopters and general camp duties.                                                                                                                                                                                                

Some of the unique tasks that keep us busy are preparing sling loads for the helicopters.  This ATV is being hooked up for a flight back to McMurdo.  For items like this we have to attach a fin or tail rudder to prevent the load from spinning during flight.  The sight of a snowmobile or ATV flying through the air with a big orange fin seems a bit unusual but then again this is an unusual place.

                     PHI   Bell 212                                                          USCG Dolphine

At home we take water for granted.  By simply turning a knob or lifting a lever we have a seemingly endless supply.    For us here it is not so easy.  Even though Antarctica has 80 percent of the world’s fresh water almost 100% of it is frozen solid.  Of all the worlds fresh water 90% of it is trapped in the form of ice and we have all but 10 percent of that.  In McMurdo we rely on the fluid ocean for our water needs.  Seawater is desalinated through a process of reverse osmosis.  At the South Pole a Rodwell is used to provide the stations water needs.   This process begins with a hole drilled into the Polar Plateau and the Rodwell inserted.  The instrument radiates heat which intern melts the ice.  A tube is also lowered into the hole pumping out the water for storage and consumption.   Here at Marble we have yet another method of producing water.  With our permanent population of 3 and the ability to house only 14 guests our water needs would not make a desalination plant economically viable.  Due to our physical location a Rodwell would also not work.   Marble is at the base of the Dry Valleys who earned their name as a result of the Katabatic winds which keep this area scowered and free of snow.  To supply our needs we tap into the Wilson Piedmont Glacier in our back yard.  We drive our 941B dozer named Patty a quarter mile from camp to the base of the glacier.  A large scoop is taken back to camp and dumped into our snowmelter.  Here it will be melted before passing through our filtration system and finally into our cups. 












As the Dry Valleys are a focal point for many research projects it is important for us to make every effort to keep the area as pristine as possible.  All of our waste products have to be transported back to McMurdo for proper disposal.  To minimize the amount of weight and expedite the process in McMurdo all waste products are sorted and contained for shipment.  As with the rest of the continent we sort our paper, glass, plastic, metals, etc.  In addition we also have to send out our bodily wastes.   To do this we have specially designed toilets.  When we have to pee it is much like an outhouse back home.  However instead of a pit the pee is funneled into 55-gallon steel drums.  For poop the process is a bit more involved.  We have a modified freezer and a comfortable seat.    A plastic bag lines the box below the seat to collect our business while we thumb through magazines from the early 80’s.   At the end of the article or at the beginning of frostbite on the butt we remove the bag, tie it tight and deposit in the locking white container in the left of the photo.  From here the pee barrels and the poop pots will be shuttled to McMurdo and then loaded onto our annual re-supply ship for the long journey to the USA for treatment and disposal.


During my stay at Marble Point Santa and his singing elves visited us.  Christmas is always looked forward to as we get a 2-day weekend.  Marble is no exception and we were serenaded by these flying elves from McMurdo.  I also brought in the New Year at Marble.  Even though our celebrations could not compare to McMurdo or Times Square the 3 of us had a fantastic New Year’s Eve party.  We feasted on Alaskan King Crab, Beef Tenderloin and toasted in 2002 with a bottle of wine brought by some Italians from nearby Terra Nova Bay, their nations Research Station. We made a toast for a prosperous new year and were in bed by 9:30. 


My three weeks at Marble Point were fantastic.  When it was time to return to McMurdo the locals came out to wave goodbye while future generations were on the way to great future arrivals.    

                             Adelie Penguin                                                                 Skua chick


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