In October of 2019, fellow artist Ian van Coller and I journeyed to Antarctica through the auspices of the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. We traveled from our respective homes in Bozeman, Montana, and Clemson, South Carolina, by way of Christchurch, New Zealand, to one of the world’s most impressive research facilities — McMurdo Station. McMurdo Station is located on Ross Island, Antarctica, and operated by the United States Antarctic Program, a program of the National Science Foundation.
Access to the station is facilitated by way of a C-17 or C-130 aircraft operated by the United States Air Force. At peak times, approximately 1,100 cafeteria workers, construction workers, electricians, equipment and logistics task masters, housekeepers, I.T. support, mechanics, NSF/USAP staff, safety instructors, and the like populate the station. Any person wanting to spend four or five months in one of the most remote spots on the planet is by definition remarkable and, by human resources’ standards, an expert in their respective field. One of our snow-camping safety instructors, Geoff Schellens, exemplified this. He is an elite mountaineering guide in the Himalayas during the Antarctic offseason.
Ian and I journeyed to Antarctica to conduct interdisciplinary art and science research. Our NSF projects center on creating educational materials and artist’s books about United States Antarctic Program research related to the global climate crisis. To this end, we spent about six weeks on the ice sketching and photographing the landscapes and scientists and their equipment. Our time was split among a variety of laboratories, historic huts and field locations.
Our primary work was conducted with an eight-person science team, drilling ice cores to reconstruct Earth’s climate in the past. Air bubbles and dust trapped in ancient ice contain physical records, such as concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), from the time the ice was formed.