Not all of Antarctica is covered with snow and ice.
The McMurdo Dry Valleys lie west of McMurdo Sound and are considered one of the world’s most extreme deserts. The area features rocky terrain marked by low humidity and little snow or ice. These conditions are largely a result of the fierce katabatic winds that can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour, evaporating the moisture in the air or on land. The summer glacial melt creates small freshwater streams that feed the saline lakes.
The Dry Valleys were once the site of teeming life.
Researchers in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica have discovered previously unknown fossil sites revealing a much different continent in the distant past. One such site has yielded multiple layers of soil containing fossils of wood, leaves, mosses, seeds, spores, and even insects.
Due to its placement in the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica has drastically different seasons than most of the world. Summer runs from October to March and is called the austral season. During this time, the days get longer and longer until the sun doesn’t set at all, giving the Frozen Continent yet another nickname: Land of the Midnight Sun.
The other season is winter, which runs from March to October.
McMurdo Station sits at the southernmost point of the volcanic rock known as Ross Island and serves as the gateway for most scientific and tourist ventures. Its easy access to McMurdo Sound allows the continent to have supplies shipped in during the austral season. Personnel and supplies are flown into McMurdo from Christchurch via military transport planes as weather permits. Flights are suspended during the winter months because the cold turns the plane’s fuel into jelly. Resupply flights resume in August. During the austral season, McMurdo Station has a population of over 1,000 people. A small crew stays to maintain operations during the long winter of darkness.
The island began its role as a supply point in 1904, when polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott left a hut with provisions nearby on what is now Hut Point during his ill-fated expedition.
The station was officially founded as a temporary naval base for scientists in 1955. With its seaport and runways, it served as a logistics base for the construction of the research facility at the South Pole during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958. The U.S. Antarctic program of the National Science Foundation took over the base in 1961 and developed it into a research and logistics station.
In the novel Blood Falls, a woman serves as McMurdo’s station manager. Has a woman ever held that job in Antarctica?
There have been several brave women who served as station managers in the rugged Antarctic.
History was made in 1994 when all three of the stations under the flag of the United States were manned by female station managers: Janet Phillips at Amundsen-Scott Station, Karen Schwall at McMurdo Station, and Ann Peoples at Palmer Station.
Karen Schwall was the first female U.S. Army officer in Antarctica and the first woman to manage McMurdo Station. She served as manager first from October-December 1994 and again from February-August 1995. She was promoted to Major while on inactive reserve in 1995.
Ann Peoples, an archeologist with the Bureau of Land Management, began her work with the US Antarctic Program in 1981. She held several positions in the Antarctic and received recognition for her work as the Berg Field Center manager from 1986-1989. She became the first woman to manage Palmer Station and served there from 1991-1995. Peoples Rocks on Anvers Island, where Palmer Station sits, was named after her.
Janet Phillips went to Antarctica as a mechanical engineer in 1991. She spent several years at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and became the station manager there for the 1993-1994 season.