McMurdo Station
McMurdo Station from Observation Hill
McMurdo Station from Observation Hill
Location of McMurdo Station in Antarctica
Location of McMurdo Station in Antarctica
McMurdo Station
Location of McMurdo Station in Antarctica
Coordinates: 77°50′47″S 166°40′06″E / 77.846323°S 166.668235°E / -77.846323; 166.668235
Country United States
Location in AntarcticaRoss Island, Ross Dependency; claimed by New Zealand.
Administered byUnited States Antarctic Program of the National Science Foundation
Established16 February 1956; 68 years ago (1956-02-16)
Named forArchibald McMurdo
Elevation10 m (30 ft)
 • Summer
 • Winter
Time zoneUTC+12 (NZST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+13 (NZDT)
TypeAll year-round
  • Aeronomy
  • Astrophysics
  • Biology
  • Geophysics
  • Glacial geology
  • Ocean and climate systems

McMurdo Station is an American Antarctic research station on the southern tip of Ross Island, which is in the New Zealand–claimed Ross Dependency on the shore of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. It is operated by the United States through the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), a branch of the National Science Foundation. The station is the largest community in Antarctica, capable of supporting up to 1,500 residents,[1][3] and serves as one of three year-round United States Antarctic science facilities. All personnel and cargo going to or coming from Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station first pass through McMurdo. McMurdo Station continues to operate as the hub for American activities on the Antarctic continent. By road, McMurdo is 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from New Zealand's smaller Scott Base.



The station takes its name from its geographic location on McMurdo Sound, named after Lieutenant Archibald McMurdo of British ship HMS Terror. The Terror, commanded by Northern Irish explorer Francis Crozier, along with expedition flagship Erebus under command of English Explorer James Clark Ross, first charted the area in 1841. The British explorer Robert Falcon Scott established a base camp close to this spot in 1902 and built a cabin there that was named Discovery Hut. It still stands as a historic monument near the water's edge on Hut Point at McMurdo Station. The volcanic rock of the site is the southernmost bare ground accessible by ship in the world. The United States officially opened its first station at McMurdo on February 16, 1956, as part of Operation Deep Freeze. The base, built by the U.S. Navy Seabees, was initially designated Naval Air Facility McMurdo. On November 28, 1957, Admiral George J. Dufek visited McMurdo with a U.S. congressional delegation for a change-of-command ceremony.[4]

International Geophysical Year

McMurdo Station was the center of United States logistical operations during the International Geophysical Year,[4] an international scientific effort that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. After the IGY, it became the center for US scientific as well as logistical activities in Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty, subsequently signed by over forty-five governments, regulates intergovernmental relations with respect to Antarctica and governs the conduct of daily life at McMurdo for United States Antarctic Program (USAP) participants. The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), opened for signature on December 1, 1959, and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961.

The first scientific diving protocols were established before 1960 and the first diving operations were documented in November 1961.[5]

Nuclear power (1962–1972)

Nuclear reactor commemorative plaque
The supply ship MV American Tern during cargo operations at McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze 2007. The square building in the foreground is Discovery Hut.
McMurdo Station from above.

On March 3, 1962, the U.S. Navy activated the PM-3A nuclear power plant at the station. The unit was prefabricated in modules to facilitate transport and assembly. Engineers designed the components to weigh no more than 30,000 pounds (14,000 kg) each and to measure no more than 8 feet 8 inches (2.64 m) by 8 feet 8 inches (2.64 m) by 30 feet (9.1 m). A single core no larger than an oil drum served as the heart of the nuclear reactor. These size and weight restrictions aimed to allow delivery of the reactor in an LC-130 Hercules aircraft. However, the components were actually delivered by ship.[6] The reactor generated 1.8 MW of electrical power[7] and reportedly replaced the need for 1,500 US gallons (5,700 L) of oil daily.[8] Engineers applied the reactor's power, for instance, in producing steam for the salt-water distillation plant. As a result of continuing safety issues (hairline cracks in the reactor and water leaks),[9][10] the U.S. Army Nuclear Power Program decommissioned the plant in 1972.[10]

Diesel generators

Conventional diesel generators replaced the nuclear power station, with a number of 500 kilowatts (670 hp) diesel generators in a central powerhouse providing electric power. A conventionally fueled water-desalination plant provided fresh water.

Wind turbines

Three Enercon E-33 (330 kW each) wind turbines were deployed in 2009 to power McMurdo and New Zealand's Scott Base, reducing diesel consumption by 11% or 463,000 litres per year.[11][12] The subsequent failure of a proprietary, non-replaceable part critical to battery storage reduced the power generation of the turbines by 66% by 2019.[13]

1962 Arcas rockets

Between 1962 and 1963, 28 Arcas sounding rockets were launched from McMurdo Station.[14]

McMurdo Station stands about two miles (3 km) from Scott Base, the New Zealand science station, and all of Ross Island lies within a sector claimed by New Zealand. Criticism has been leveled at the base regarding its construction projects, particularly the McMurdo-(Amundsen-Scott) South Pole highway.[15]

1998 Protocol on Environmental Protection

McMurdo Station has attempted to improve environmental management and waste removal in order to adhere to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, signed on October 4, 1991, which entered into force on January 14, 1998. This agreement prevents development and provides for the protection of the Antarctic environment through five specific annexes on marine pollution, fauna and flora, environmental impact assessments, waste management, and protected areas. It prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources except scientific ones. A new waste-treatment facility was built at McMurdo in 2003.

Scientific diving operations, 1989 to 2006

Scientific diving operations continue with 10,859 dives having been conducted under the ice from 1989 to 2006. A hyperbaric chamber is available for support of polar diving operations.[5]

2003 anti-war protest

McMurdo Station briefly gained global notice when an anti-war protest took place on February 15, 2003. During the rally, about 50 scientists and station personnel gathered to protest against the coming invasion of Iraq by the United States. McMurdo Station was the only Antarctic location to hold such a rally.[16]

Contemporary functions

McMurdo Station in November 2003.

As of 2007, McMurdo Station was Antarctica's largest community and a functional, modern-day science station, including a harbor, three airfields[17] (two seasonal), a heliport and more than 100 buildings, including the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center. The station is also home to the continent's two ATMs, both provided by Wells Fargo Bank. The work done at McMurdo Station primarily focuses on science, but most of the residents (approximately 1,000 in the summer and around 250 in the winter) are not scientists, but station personnel who provide support for operations, logistics, information technology, construction, and maintenance.

Scientists and other personnel at McMurdo are participants in the USAP, which coordinates research and operational support in the region. Werner Herzog's 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World reports on the life and culture of McMurdo Station from the point-of-view of residents. Anthony Powell's 2013 documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice provides time-lapse photography of Antarctica intertwined with personal accounts from residents of McMurdo Station and of the adjacent Scott Base over the course of a year.

An annual sealift by cargo ships as part of Operation Deep Freeze delivers 8 million U.S. gallons (6.6 million imperial gallons/42 million liters) of fuel and 11 million pounds (5 million kg) of supplies and equipment for McMurdo residents.[18] The ships, operated by the U.S. Military Sealift Command, are crewed by civilian mariners. Cargo may range from mail, construction materials, trucks, tractors, dry and frozen food, to scientific instruments. U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers break a ship channel through ice-clogged McMurdo Sound in order for supply ships to reach Winter Quarters Bay at McMurdo. Additional supplies and personnel are flown into nearby Williams Field from Christchurch in New Zealand.

A 10K-AT "All Terrain" forklift moves a loaded cargo-sled as part of an Operation Deep Freeze resupply mission


Aerial view of the tip of Hut Point Peninsula with McMurdo Station on the near side and Scott Base on the far side

With all months having an average temperature below freezing, McMurdo features a polar ice cap climate (Köppen EF). However, in the warmest months (December and January) the monthly average high temperature may occasionally rise above freezing. The place is protected from cold waves from the interior of Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains, so temperatures below −40° are rare, compared to more exposed places like Neumayer Station, which usually gets those temperatures a few times every year, often as early as May, and sometimes even as early as April, and very rarely above 0 °C. The highest temperature ever recorded at McMurdo was 10.8 °C on December 21, 1987. There is enough snowmelt in summer that a limited amount of vegetation can grow, specifically a few species of moss and lichen.

Climate data for McMurdo Station (extremes 1956–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 10.2
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) −0.6
Daily mean °C (°F) −2.8
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) −4.6
Record low °C (°F) −22.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 16
Average snowfall cm (inches) 6.6
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 2.6 4.7 3.2 4.5 5.5 5.7 4.7 4.1 3.0 3.2 2.4 2.5 46.1
Average snowy days 12.8 17.6 17.8 16.4 16.2 15.6 15.3 14.5 13.3 14.5 13.5 13.8 181.3
Average relative humidity (%) 66.7 65.2 66.6 66.6 64.2 62.4 60.2 63.4 55.8 61.4 64.7 67.0 63.7
Source 1: Deutscher Wetterdienst (average temperatures)[19]
Source 2: NOAA (precipitation, snowy days, and humidity data 1961–1986),[20] Meteo Climat (record highs and lows)[21]


Starting in 1963, McMurdo played host to one of the only two shortwave broadcast stations in Antarctica. From sign-on to 1971, the callsign was KMSA, from then on it was changed to WASA (W Antarctic Support Activities), later changing to AFAN in 1975. As KMSA, the station broadcast in the same building as the bowling alley, the barber shop and the retail store. A part of the vinyl collection reportedly came from Vietnam, believing to have been played by Adrian Cronauer's show in Saigon. In a 1997 interview to The Antarctic Sun, Cronauer denied these claims and the vinyl collection was apparently destroyed.[22] The station—AFAN McMurdo—initially operated on AM 600 and had a power of 50 W,[23] but by 1974, it transmitted with a power of 1 kilowatt on the shortwave frequency of 6,012 kHz and became a target for shortwave radio listening to hobbyists around the world because of its rarity. The station was picked up by DX for the first time in New Zealand in July 1974, and within a few months had its signal received as far as the US east coast. AFAN had changed frequencies several times in subsequent years.[24] The station continued broadcasting on shortwave into the 1980s when it dropped shortwave while continuing FM transmission.[25]

For a time, McMurdo had Antarctica's only television station, AFAN-TV, running vintage programs provided by the military. Broadcasts started on November 9, 1973, with a mix of US programs and interviews with visitors and scientists, as well as a daily news and weather service.[26] The station's equipment was susceptible to "electronic burping" from the diesel generators that provide electricity in the outpost. The station was profiled in a 1975 article in TV Guide magazine, where the station broadcast in the summer months, known by staff as "the season" (November to February), the only season where Antarctica was (at the time) open to aircraft.[27] In the mid-90s, a cable network was installed. By 1998, shortly after the launch of new AFN television services the year before, the traditional AFN network was broadcast over cable channel 2 (the channel that would soon become AFN Prime), NewSports (the current AFN News and AFN Sports) was on channel 11 and Spectrum (current AFN Spectrum) was on channel 13.[28]

Now, McMurdo receives three channels of the US Military's American Forces Network,[citation needed] the Australia Network, and New Zealand news broadcasts. A fourth station on 104.5FM is known as Ice Radio, and features local folks at McMurdo hosting their own radio shows, backed by contemporary music. Television broadcasts are received by satellite at Black Island, and transmitted 25 miles (40 km) by digital microwave to McMurdo.

McMurdo Station receives both Internet and voice communications by satellite communications via the Optus D1 satellite and relayed to Sydney, Australia.[29][30] A satellite dish at Black Island provides 20 Mbit/s Internet connectivity and voice communications. Voice communications are tied into the United States Antarctic Program headquarters in Centennial, Colorado, providing inbound and outbound calls to McMurdo from the US. Voice communications within the station are conducted via VHF radio.

Testing of the Starlink service began in September 2022,[31] with a second terminal providing connectivity for the Allan Hills field camp brought in November 2022.[32] The Starlink test ran from January to March of 2023, when it was shut off indefinitely to analyze test data.[failed verification]


Ivan the Terra Bus.
This 1983 image of USNS Southern Cross at McMurdo Station shows cargo operations on a floating ice pier. Such piers have been in use since 1973.
MV American Tern being led by the Russian icebreaker Krasin to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze 2006. Mount Erebus is visible in the background.


McMurdo has the world's most southerly harbor. A multitude of on- and off-road vehicles transport people and cargo around the station area, including Ivan the Terra Bus (a pun on Ivan the Terrible). There is a road from McMurdo to the New Zealand Scott Base and South Pole, the South Pole Traverse.


McMurdo station is serviced seasonally from Christchurch Airport about 3,920 kilometres (2,440 mi) away by air,[33] with C-17 Globemaster and Lockheed LC-130, by three airports:

Historic sites

Byrd Historic Monument

The Richard E. Byrd Historic Monument was erected at McMurdo in 1965. It includes a bronze bust on black marble, 150 cm × 60 cm (5 ft × 2 ft) square, on a wooden platform, bearing inscriptions describing the polar exploration achievements of Richard E. Byrd. It has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 54), following a proposal by the United States to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.[34]

The bronze Nuclear Power Plant Plaque is about 45 cm × 60 cm (18 in × 24 in) in size, and is secured to a large vertical rock halfway up the west side of Observation Hill, at the former site of the PM-3A nuclear power reactor at McMurdo Station. The inscription details the achievements of Antarctica's first nuclear power plant. It has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 85), following a proposal by the United States to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.[34]

Annotated view over the Station, also showing Scott Base and the McMurdo Ice Shelf

Points of interest

Facilities at the station include:


Once a year around New Year's Day Icestock, the most southern music festival is organized, with performers being from the station and Scott Base.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Antarctic Station Catalogue (PDF) (catalogue). Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs. August 2017. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-473-40409-3. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 22, 2022. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  2. ^ a b "McMurdo Station". Geosciences: Polar Programs. National Science Foundation. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  3. ^ "4.0 Antarctica - Past and Present". National Science Foundation.
  4. ^ a b "US Antarctic Base Has Busy Day". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. November 29, 1957. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Pollock, Neal W. (2007). "Scientific diving in Antarctica: history and current practice". Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine. 37: 204–11. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2013.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  6. ^ Rejcek, Peter (June 25, 2010). "Powerful reminder: Plaque dedicated to former McMurdo nuclear plant marks a significant moment in Antarctic history". The Antarctic Sun. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  7. ^ Priestly, Rebecca (January 7, 2012). "The wind turbines of Scott Base". The New Zealand Listener. Archived from the original on August 11, 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  8. ^ Clarke, Peter McFerrin (1966). On the ice. Burdette.
  9. ^ "Nuclear Science Abstracts". August 1967.
  10. ^ a b "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists". Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science. October 1978.
  11. ^ "Ross Island Wind Energy". Retrieved September 28, 2015.
  12. ^ "New Zealand Wind Energy Association". Archived from the original on November 17, 2013. Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  13. ^
    • Fernando, Maria (June 26, 2023). "Success Through International Collaboration in Microgrid Operation on Ross Island". youtube. Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart, NZ: Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs. Retrieved August 27, 2023. Maria Fernando is a Electrical & Wind Engineer at Antarctica New Zealand....In January 2010, the Crater Hill Wind Farm was commissioned and became operational, the world's southernmost wind farm. The three turbines, supply electricity to a shared power microgrid that connects Scott Base to McMurdo Station, called the Ross Island Energy Grid (RIEG). A number of improvements have been made over the lifetime of the RIEG, including automation of the Scott Base generators in order to more efficiently use generated electricity between the two stations when wind generated electricity is not enough to meet the power demands of the Ross Island network. Innovation and collaboration between Antarctica New Zealand and the United States Antarctic Program has made the project successful. Ongoing collaboration occurs to ensure the day-to-day operation of the microgrid and to work through any issues. This presentation will offer an update to the operation of the Crater Hill Wind Farm in the years since construction and the wider Ross Island Energy Grid, highlighting safety and maintenance issues that have occurred, lessons learned and successes achieved through collaboration.
    • "20th COMNAP Symposium". COMNAP. Retrieved August 27, 2023.
  14. ^ "McMurdo Station". Archived from the original on October 6, 2012. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  15. ^ Moss, Stephen (January 24, 2003). "No, not a ski resort – it's the south pole". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  16. ^ "Protest photos". PunchDown. Archived from the original on October 25, 2010. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  17. ^ Miguel Llanos (January 25, 2007). "Reflections from time on 'the Ice'". NBC News. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  18. ^ Modern Marvels: Sub-Zero. The History Channel.
  19. ^ "Klimatafel von McMurdo (USA) / Antarktis" (PDF). Baseline climate means (1961–1990) from stations all over the world (in German). Deutscher Wetterdienst. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  20. ^ "McMurdo Sound Climate Normals 1961−1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 19, 2014.
  21. ^ "Station McMurdo" (in French). Meteo Climat. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  22. ^ "McMurdo radio station goes high-tech but retains retro vinyl collection" (February 24, 2012). Retrieved 2023-06-29
  23. ^ "Antarctic Radio Melts" (2012). Retrieved 2023-06-29
  24. ^ "American Forces Antarctic Network". Retrieved 2023-06-29
  25. ^ Berg, Jerome S. (October 24, 2008). Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today. McFarland. p. 213. ISBN 9780786451982 – via Google Books.
  26. ^ Antarctic Journal of the United States. January–February 1974. p. 29. ISBN 9780786451982 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ Shurkin, Joel N. (May 1975). They Usually Get a Rating of 40 (People, That Is)". TV Guide: 12-15.
  28. ^ "The Antarctic Sun" (PDF). February 7, 1998. p. 17. Retrieved June 29, 2023.
  29. ^ "Optus D1 satellite to provide critical link to Antarctica and to help monitor our changing Earth. " (September 20, 2007). Retrieved 2013-08-06
  30. ^ Wolejsza, C.; Whiteley, D.; Paciaroni, J. (2010)
  31. ^ Clark, Mitchell (September 15, 2022). "Starlink is even in Antarctica now". The Verge. Retrieved November 7, 2022.
  32. ^ Speck, Emilee (December 7, 2022). "Researchers studying oldest ice on Earth become first Antarctic field camp to use Starlink internet". FOX Weather. Retrieved January 19, 2023.
  33. ^ "Gateway to Antarctica". Christchurch Airport. Retrieved August 25, 2023.
  34. ^ a b "List of Historic Sites and Monuments approved by the ATCM (2012)" (PDF). Antarctic Treaty Secretariat. 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  35. ^ "Ross Island DGC". DGCourseReview. Retrieved September 3, 2013.