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Ice Town

Sitting upon McMurdo Sound on 2 meters (6 feet) of sea ice lies Ice Town, the support facilities for the seasonal sea ice runway.

Ice Town

Ice Town

Various temporary structures provide services for the ice runway including fire protection (Station 2), cargo loading and unloading, radar and avionics, food service and air traffic control (Ice Tower).

Station 2 is the satellite station for the Antarctic Fire Department in McMurdo Station, providing Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) services to the ice runway and Ice Town. Various ARFF rigs are staffed for what is called a hard stand during which firefighters stand by on the ice field for airplanes landing and taking off. The fire department also provides “follow me” services for certain planes for which the ice runway is not a familiar airfield.

Station 2, Antarctic Fire Department, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Station 2, Antarctic Fire Department, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

ARFF rig

ARFF rig

Follow me! A C-17 following the FD.

Follow me! A C-17 following the FD.

Objects: they are closer than they appear.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Several kinds of aircraft take off and land at the ice runway. The United States Airforce operates C-17 and LC-130 cargo planes and Kenn Borek Air, a Canadian contractor, provides Basler and Twin Otter airplanes. Helicopter operations take place on land at a heliport at McMurdo Station.

USAF C-17

USAF C-17

USAF LC-130 landing.

USAF LC-130 landing.

Kenn Borek Twin Otter

Kenn Borek Twin Otter

With the sun getting stronger and tempeatures rising, Icetown and the ice runway only have a couple more weeks of operation until operations switch to Pegasus Field, another airfield located on permanent sea ice several miles away. Although it is farther away, the permanent sea ice can handle far greater loads than the weakening sea ice can. A C-17 has a maximum payload of over 170,000 pounds and a maximum take-off weight of 585,000 pounds. As the seasonal sea ice weakens, these planes cannot land with their maximum payload, making this a less efficient operation.

The views from Icetown are pretty nice. I can see why people like to work here. Mount Erebus can be seen clearly, as can the Transantarctic Mountains.

Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano in the world.

Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano in the world.

It’s a fairly odd feeling standing out there on McMurdo Sound taking in all the scenery with 1,000 feet of water beneath your feet. It’s also quite a bit colder and much windier on the sea ice than in town.

14 comments to Ice Town

  • Kristen Kessel Ellison

    WAAAAYYYYYY cool! I LOVE the photo of the C-17 in the side view mirror of the vehicle (ARFF rig I assume). I feel like I’m watching the Discovery Channel! Um there’s a C-17 following you – it’s like a movie.

    The scenery is gorgeous. You can see how bright and blue the sky is, and always appreciate how white the snow is. It doesn’t ever turn into the NY city-gray slush.

    A few years ago when we landed on a glacier in Alaska, we were on a plane exactly like that Kenn Borek Twin Otter, and I can even see the “skis” on the landing gear. At the time I had thought it so scary and dangerous landing a plane on a glacier, but now I see that was nothing! Next time I’m for a ride in a Twin Otter landing on a glacier I’ll try to act all important and say, “This is nothing, you should try landing a C-17 on this glacier! My very cool brother has those bad boys following him on the ice fields in Antarctica.” Everyone in earshot would be quite impressed I am sure. I know I am.

    Rock on wit’cho bad self!

  • Sue K

    Wow, I love the pictures of Ice Town! Do people sleep and eat there too, or go back to McMurdo to sleep and eat? It looks like there are a lot of facilities out there.

    Do the C-17s and LC-130s have runners or just tires? It looks like just tires, and I cannot imagine hitting the breaks while landing on ice! It is scary enough for me to land in the rain in Newark.

    The scenery is beautiful, but I can see why so many people love Farmville down there.

  • Aunt Mary

    Kristen, you crack me up! But it is like Discovery Channel … but much more personal. Scott I know you’re having as good a time reporting as we are watching and reading. What an awesome experience!

  • Mom

    OMG…and still more breathtaking moments & pix. These are so gorgeous with the skies so clear & bright & NO clouds…what scenery! How lucky we are to get these photos to look at in our warm cozy offices & homes while you are out there in VERY cold temperatures and gusty winds. But I know how you are loving it and that warms my heart! BUNDLE UP!!! Take good care of yourself, my boy!

  • Jeff Maples

    Thanks for great aircraft shots. Now I’m starting to get a little envious of you, Scott.

    I did notice the ski/wheel set-up on the LC-130. I imagine they lower the skis when needed. You can also see the jets tucked in just above the main gear on the side of the fuselage. The C-17 is as equally awesome. I believe Dom’s brother flies in them with the secret service.

    Never heard of a Basler so I looked it up on Wikipedia and to my amazement a Basler BT-67 is a retrofitted DC-3 (the C-47 work horse of WW II). A DC-3 never looked so good…very sleek.

    The Twin Otter I know from air shows in the 70’s. There was a pilot that toured in one doing aerobatics. It was very impressive considering the aircraft was manufactured mainly for carrying cargo and commuters. It is a STOL design (Short Take Off and Landing) which gets them in and out of tight places. From your photos I wouldn’t say that’s a problem in McMurdo.

    Take care and keep them coming.

    Jeff

  • Scott

    There are dining and lavatory facilities at Ice Town and firefighters sleep at Station 2. Other work centers, such as maintenance, cargo and other services are staffed during various hours depending upon demand. The ice runway at Ice Town supports wheeled aircraft. As the sea ice weakens and it becomes less efficient to operate the seasonal sea ice runway, Pegasus Airfield opens up, and Ice Town moves there. Pegasus will have a runway for wheeled aircraft as well as a skiway for aircraft with skis.

    The snow outside of town does indeed stay white. In town, last week’s snow had pretty much turned to mud and is now dust with some tricky spots of ice.

    And it’s snowing again…

  • Matt V

    Any sign of global warming?

  • Matt V

    These pictures are awesome.

  • Scott

    Not sure if it is specific to global warming, but the beautiful snow has turned to mud in town. Streams of water are running in the roads, water is pooling under some buildings and roofs are leaking. Sea water is beginning to seep through cracks out on the sea ice at Ice Town and the open water of the Ross Sea is getting closer. There is fog, mist and occasional snow in the air, and it is mild, near 30°F.

    People who have been here for numerous seasons have said it is not usually this mild this early, nor is there usually this much snow.

    Once the sun comes back out though, the mud will rapidly turn to dust.

  • Scott

    I guess this points to global warming.

  • Sue K

    I was just looking through the pictures again on my big work monitor, and I was struck by how blue and clear the sky is. Just beautiful!

  • Kelly Glander

    Happy Thanksgiving Scott!!
    Love,
    Your cousin who is also on a continent that does not celebrate Thanksgiving.

  • Scott

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Oddly enough, Thanksgiving is celebrated here on Saturday (local time).

  • [...] Around McMurdo The sea ice is melting. Ice Town is gone, having been dragged to Pegasus Field. Planes now take off and land at Pegasus Field which [...]

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