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Expedition Antarctica: Gearing Up

By Christine Dell’Amore

Christine Dell’Amore is participating in a National Science Foundation media trip to report on scientists conducting polar research near McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

expeditionantarctica_border.jpgAfter 20 hours of transit from D.C. to Christchurch, New Zealand, I’m just one more flight away from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, where I’m going as part of a National Science Foundation media expedition.

But this last leg will be no ordinary flight. It’s in a giant C-17 U.S. military plane that can hold up to about 130 people packed in like sardines–although fortunately my flight will be fewer than 40 passengers. To even step on board, you need a duffel bag full of “extreme cold weather” (ECW) gear. So this morning, myself and the two other journalists on the tour–freelance writers Eric Niiler and Andy Issacson (pictured below)–went to the NSF’s Clothing Distribution Center to try on all our clothes.

 

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All the required gear displayed inside the Clothing Distribution Center

When I walked into the women’s changing room, there were already two orange bags with my name on them, stuffed to the brim. I had a bit of a Christmas-morning rush as I began yanking out brand-new long underwear, gloves, and socks. We were also given fleeces, sweatpants, hats, and other gear that seemed like overkill, considering it will be about 32 degrees Fahrenheit in “Mactown,” as McMurdo is called. There are colder days in D.C.

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Me nearly kitted out — minus the gloves!

But we’ll definitely need the extra layers during our day trip Wednesday, when we’ll see the IceCube Neutrino Observatory (see pictures) and other research sites at the geographical South Pole. Temperatures there can be -0.4 degrees Fahrenheit during summer (and -56F in winter).

 

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The so-called “bunny boots” — they’re insulated with air and have a valve that you have to open and close

Our itinerary, which we just got yesterday, is packed–including our South Pole adventure, we’ll take a helicopter excursion to the Dry Valleys research site and tours of the abandoned huts of Antarctic explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott. We’re supposed to be at Mactown until Saturday, but as I was told repeatedly before I left, uncertainty is part of the “Antarctic experience” and a massive storm may keep us at Mactown longer than planned.

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Our required gear aboard the cargo plane — we can’t step on the ice without it!

Weather could also throw a wrench in tonight’s flight, which is set to leave at 10 p.m. and land in Antarctica at 4 a.m. Turning back mid-flight is called a boomerang, and we also have to bring a “boomerang bag” with a change of clothes (once your bag is checked, you can’t get it back until you arrive in Antarctica).
The boomerang record is seven times, and considering I have just five days “on the ice,” I’m hoping skies are clear this evening!

 

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No one owns Antarctica, so this and your passport are all you need  

Photos by Christine Dell’Amore

Christine Dell’Amore is the environment writer/editor for National Geographic News.