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Transport at McMurdo

1/ How do people and supplies get to McMurdo? 3/ What kinds of vehicles transport people around McMurdo?
2/ What sort of aircraft fly to McMurdo?

How do people and supplies get to McMurdo?

Icebreaker and tanker at McMurdo
Photograph courtesy NSF
There are two ways to arrive at McMurdo, by sea or by air. Most people arrive by air as the journey by sea is much longer and there are good airstrips to allow large high-capacity aircraft to fly in easily.

Cargo on the other hand tends to mainly come in by sea, at least the heavy and bulky stuff such as fuel does.

The Ross Sea around McMurdo Sound freezes solidly each winter and cannot be relied upon to be ice free come the spring and summer, so ice breakers accompany cargo and supply tankers to break a path through the ice if necessary.

Here (left) a tanker is tied up to an artificially created floating freshwater wharf (a sort of man-made ice berg) while unloading.

The fuel tanker Lawrence N. Gianella at Winters Quarters Bay
What sort of aircraft fly to McMurdo?
LC-130 ski-equipped Hercules USAF C-5 landing on sea-ice runway

New York Air National Guard LC-130 Hercules. The LC-130 is equipped with ski-landing gear that allows the aircraft to land on ice or snow while airlifting supplies to remote locations throughout the Antarctic continent. Photographs courtesy NSF

"Reet big jossers" (as my granddad would have said). The aircraft that fly to McMurdo take off from Christchurch in New Zealand and so need to be large to have sufficient range to get there and also fly through the winds and storms that they may encounter en route.

The pictures show a LC-130 Hercules (left) which is the mainstay of the US Antarctic programme and a heavy transport C-5. The Hercules are uniquely ski-equipped for landing on the ice runways, while the C-5's are used to transport priority cargo to McMurdo base.

Ships take the heaviest and bulkiest of the cargo, but even when accompanied by icebreakers, their itinerary cannot be guaranteed. Many scientific programmes therefore take necessary equipment  by aircraft so they can get started sooner in the season as the Austral summer is a very short season. Also, other vital supplies to keep the base running smoothly can be carried down by aircraft sooner than can be achieved by ship.

What kinds of vehicles transport people around McMurdo?
Ivan the Terra Bus can carry up to 56 passengers plus all of their luggage

There are a wide variety of vehicles that are used in and around McMurdo. These are some of the passenger carrying shuttle vehicles that Sharon might be driving to take people to work and "around town". These vehicles are also used to get people to and from the airfields.

For vehicles that are not going to leave base, tyres are adequate, even if they are extra large, extra fat and extra knobbly tyres.

Around McMurdo the vehicles run on "roads" that are flat and smooth. Away from the base, the terrain is not like this and while such vehicles as these could get a long way off base, if they became bogged down in soft snow or slushy ice, they would have problems in getting out again, and that's not even mentioning what would happen if one or more wheels found a crevasse or broke through the sea ice.

In the winter months, vehicles are hooked up to a "hitching rail". This is a power supply rail that keeps a heater in the vehicle going so that it is possible to start when required. Without a heater, it would take a long time, possibly many hours to get the engine to a state where it could start up.

Vehicles that are not required during the winter months such as the larger passenger carriers are either garaged or raised up so the weight is not taken on the wheels if they are left outside. Cold temperatures mean that tyre pressures decrease if they are not pumped up. This would cause the weight of the vehicle to flatten the tyre in conditions where the tyre is rather brittle and so could be permanently misshapen. When the spring arrives again, temperatures increase and the vehicles are required again, so they are let back down to earth and put back into use.

12 passenger Ford shuttle van
A "Delta" used for shuttling people around town and also for recreational trips
photographs Sharon Heilman


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