Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

Archive for September, 2010

McMurdo General Hospital

I am a physician in the three bed hospital located at McMurdo station.  I have now been on the ice for one week and I am adjusting to dorm living, cafeteria dining and seeing patients in our lovely clinic.  On my way to clinic in the morning, I have amazing views!

The clinic/hospital is small, has a definite military influence, and has very little privacy.   But, I am working with a great group of people.  We are expecting increased clinic volumes when the base increases from 500 people to 1200 people.   We will be seeing approximately 50 patients per day for a variety of acute and chronic medical issues.


You enter near the lobby area.  We have two curtained rooms for seeing patients and one exam room for more private matters.

We each have a small office space with a computer.    My desk is in the back in the inpatient area.  We do have the ability to have three inpatients if needed. 

We have greats people working in pharmacy lab and xray, who help with clinic duties as well.   The physical therapy office is connected and available to assist with rehab. 

I am looking forward to learning more from all of the people working with me down here.   I am slowly adjusting to the different way of practicing medicine in this environment compared to the big city of Seattle. 

I want to thank the AFSA students for following along during my adventure.  They have asked some excellent questions which I am slowly answering.  You can find their questions and answers on the right hand side of the home page or under the AFSA tab at the top of the home page.

Hopefully I will have another hike report this weekend (hope for better weather!)

First Antarctic Hike. . . BRRRRR!!

Low Visibility - overlooking the bay. .

I made grand plans on Saturday to explore my surroundings on my day off.  I finally adjusted to the time change and the weather has been beautiful.  I awoke early and put on my cold weather clothes with plans to hike observation hill with a friend, Robert.  As I was leaving the dorm, a veteran worker who lives in the same building asked if I was really going for a hike.  When I responded yes, he asked if I would like to know how to access the weather on line.  In showing me the online weather station, he told me that the windchill was -42 F.  Yikes.  I met Robert at the planned time.  Given the temp and low visibility, we opted to explore the town instead.  We walked for 20 minutes before we escaped the elements and warmed up with hot chocolate and baileys.

By early afternoon, I was tired of reading and staying warm.  There was a sign up on the rec board advertising a hike on the Hut Point Loop that brings you past Discovery hut (built by the Scott expedition).  I again dressed warmly and walked to the Galley where I expected to find the hike cancelled.  Instead I found 6 other people, dressed as I was, ready to explore in the bitter cold.  We hiked in the coldest, windiest conditions I have ever seen.  The wind was pushing me sideways.  When I turned my back to the wind, I could lean backwards without falling.  The wind was so strong that three other hikers and I turned around at the half way point after crossing an extremely windy, exposed ridge.  Seeing two more, windier, higher ridges, I opted to stay safe and head back to town.  We were out for a total of one hour without any cold injury!   We checked the weather when we returned:

Outdoor Temperature -30.0°C (// -22°F)
Wind Speed 30kts (// 35mph)
Wind Direction NE
Wind Chill -49.8°C (// -58°F)

It was too cold for me to take pictures.  Robert was braver and snapped these photos as we hiked off the ridge:

Hiking off the ridge. I am in the lead

Continuing down the Ridge

Arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica

I have arrived safely at McMurdo Station after an amazing flight over the sea ice and Mt. Erebus.  Early in the season, the USAP (US Antarctic Program) uses an Australian Airbus for transportation rather than the Military C-17 that is commonly documented in photographs.  While I was bummed that I did not get the “classic experience,”  I was able to fly in style!  I was lucky enough to have a reclining seat next to the window. 

Airbus - flying in style!


We had crystal clear skies and many experienced veterans have never seen the incredible views that we had.  As we approached the antarctic continent, we were excited to see sea ice.  Little did I know that the views would only get better. 

View from the plane.


The colors were phenomenal.  We then saw Mt. Erebus out my window.  This is the southernmost active volcano on earth with an elevation of 12, 448 feet. 

Mt. Erebus from the plane.



Prior to landing, we were instructed to put on our ECW gear.  I was nervous about the cold and wind that would greet us as we stepped off the plane.   It was the nicest day of the season so far with no wind, bright blue skies and “warm” weather.  The max temp on base that day was 5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not too bad when you are wearing goose down and “bunny boots.” 


We landed on the ice runway which is a few miles from McMurdo base.  We were then transported to another briefing by “Ivan the Terra Bus.”  This is one of the large transport vehicles at McMurdo base. 

Ice Transportation


I have settled into my dorm room and spent some time touring the clinic.  I will officially start seeing patients on Monday.  They are giving me a couple of days to get used to the clinic and the large time change. 

Thanks for all of the email, facebook and comment messages!!  It keeps me connected. 

I will try to put together a tour of town this weekend.

Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) Gear

USAP Clothing Distribution Center

This afternoon was spent at the Clothing Distribution Center picking up our Extreme Cold Weather gear.  I am now the proud borrower of a “Big Red.”

The plan is to depart our hotels at 545 tomorrow morning.  The word from the ice is that there is a condition 1 storm today.  If that continues, we will stay in Christchurch until the weather clears.  If we leave, this is what I will be wearing on the plane:

The next post will be from the ICE (if weather permits) !!

Where Tomorrow is Today!

I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, yesterday evening after over 36 hours of travel.  I left on Sunday night, crossed the international date line, and landed on Tuesday morning.  Never had a Monday!  I spent yesterday recovering from the long flight.

This morning I explored downtown and the Botanical Gardens.  Christchurch is a gorgeous city that is picking up after a major earthquake.

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How To Get There From Here

Antarctica is far away.  So, how does one get from Seattle, WA to McMurdo Station in Antarctica?  I will be flying from Los Angeles  on a 13.5 hour flight to Christchurch, New Zealand.   A military cargo jet will then take me from Christchurch to McMurdo.  The map of my route is detailed below.  Each stopover point has a description of my itinerary.  The trip starts on Friday September 17, but I will not actually land on the Antarctic content until September 23 at the earliest (weather permitting).

The map is interactive.  Next post will be from Christchurch, NZ!

The Antarctic Sun: On the Line

Ice Core Processing Line
Picture from The Antarctic Sun Article Linked Below

T.J. and other researchers spent the summer in a freezer at the National Ice Core Lab (NICL) in Denver processing  ice core from WAIS divide.  They will return next summer to process the ice core from this drilling season.  The link below will take you to an interesting article about the ice core processing line and the science behind ice core analysis.   

The Antarctic Sun: News about Antarctica – On the Line (page 1)