THE CENTER’S POLAR PROGRAM EXHIBITED its first public presentation in September, a project developed with the writer William Fox, who spent the last austral summer on Antarctica conducting research for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the CLUI. The exhibit, entitled Antarctic 1: Views Along Antarctica’s First Highway, opened in September 2002, featuring images from several photographers, with text captions by William Fox. Focusing on the places along the continents only real road, unofficially named Antarctic 1, the program examines the mechanisms and infrastructure of life-support and research that take place throughout this remote and inhospitable continent of science.
Antarctic 1 is a 2.5 miles long overland gravel road that travels through McMurdo Station, America’s Antarctic logistics center. McMurdo is the continent’s largest settlement, with 1,200 inhabitants at its peak, nearly half the entire population of the continent. At one end of the road is the floating ice dock used to supply McMurdo when the ice-breakers are able to get through in the summer. At the other end is Scott Base, New Zealand’s primary facility on the continent. Beyond Scott Base the road heads out onto the ice, where a plowed path leads six miles out to the summer airport. Every winter a new airport is plowed on the seasonal ice closer into McMurdo, and every summer it melts back into the ocean.
Airplanes are the supply line for McMurdo, and air transport is provided by the New York National Guard. Of the 15 million or so pounds of material that gets delivered into McMurdo every year, nearly half is shipped back out as waste. The other half is consumed as food and fuel, or used in construction of new McMurdo buildings, or the new base at the South Pole. Raytheon (one of the nation’s largest defense companies) is the primary contractor for operations at McMurdo, running America’s programs on the Antarctic for the Federal Government through the National Science Foundation.
McMurdo is a small city in the world’s most remote place. It was established by the Navy as a military outpost, and evolved into its current science-support mission as the cold war thawed. On base are dormitories, laboratories, equipment shops, and storage areas. A cafeteria, operated for some time by the Marriott Corporation, serves four meals a day to all residents, and a Wells Fargo ATM dispenses spending money for the convenience store and the three bars that provide nighttime entertainment, including live bands and kareoke. Generators burn jet fuel (which doesn’t freeze) in order to produce electricity for the base, and to pump hot antifreeze that provides heating for the buildings. Water is supplied by a desalinization plant, and a sewage-treatment facility is in the planning stages.
Three connected structures built in the 1990’s contain Crary Laboratory, the principal research facility in McMurdo. The lab, like most new buildings in McMurdo, is raised on pylons. Walls are a foot thick and heavily insulated, and entrances are freezer doors, which lead into a vestibule and another set of doors. Its 46,500 square-feet contain walk-in freezers for ice cores, an aquarium, and a local area network for computers. Numerous wall charts and posters display current research in fields such as marine and terrestrial biology, geology and geophysics, climatology, glaciology, and volcanology. A live webcam feed from the crater rim of Mt. Erebus, a nearby active volcano, is visible on a hallway screen.
The Discovery Hut, a landmark near the beginning point of Antarctic 1, was purchased prefabricated by Robert Falcon Scott in Australia, and reassembled on site in early 1902. Designed to shed heat in the Australian Outback, it remained a miserably cold base despite the addition of quilted seaweed as insulation. It is now preserved as it was when explorers stopped using it during the first decade of the 20th century.
These are some of the features along the highway that are pointed out in the CLUI exhibit, through images provided by photographers that have worked in Antarctica recently, including Ty Milford, a professional mountain guide, who spent several seasons as a member of the McMurdo Field Safety team, Anne Noble, a New Zealand photographer who was the artist in residence at Scott Base last season, Robert Stokstad, a scientist who has worked for several seasons in particle astrophysics at the South Pole, William Sutton, a photographer who worked in McMurdo’s Crary Laboratory during the 2001/2002 season, and Stuart Klipper, one of America’s preeminent panoramic landscape photographers, who has taken more than 10,000 images there. Some of these photographers were present at the opening reception for the exhibit.
The creator of the exhibit, William Fox, is an independent writer and researcher, specializing in the examination of cognition and perception in seemingly empty places, which is what drew him originally to the Antarctic. His books include The Void, the Grid and the Sign: Traversing the Great Basin, Driving by Memory, Mapping the Empty, and Playa Works: The Myth of the Empty, a recent publication in which he describes a number of days he spent on the road with members of the CLUI.
In addition to printed text and image panels, the exhibit included an interactive component, with a clickable map of the region projected on the wall. This interactive program, designed by Steve Rowell of the CLUI, is available for sale through the Center, as a CD-ROM.
The presentation of Antarctic 1 at the CLUI was a joint production of the CLUI Polar Program and the Independent Interpreter program, through which creative landscape investigators are invited to come to the CLUI to show and discuss their work to our audience. ♦