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Tents pitched on snow.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek

End of season

Last plane of 2010-11 summer field season leaves McMurdo

One of the busiest field seasons in recent memory for the U.S. Antarctic Program External U.S. government site ended at McMurdo Station External U.S. government site on March 5.

Plane flies over buildings on ice.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
A New York Air National Guard LC-130 flies over the South Pole Station.
Building with two towers.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory lab building where the data flows from the detector strings embedded in the ice.

That’s the day the last plane, an Australian Airbus A319, departed with 33 passengers, leaving about 150 people to winter-over at the USAP’s largest research station, which boasted more than 1,100 people at the height of the summer field season. The number of people working away from the station was particularly impressive this year: the field camp population peaked at 333 at 36 locations around the continent in late December 2010, the largest USAP field population in more than 10 years. (Above, tents arrayed at the Central Transantarctic Mountains field camp.)

The program also achieved some major milestones this season. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory External Non-U.S. government site installed its 86th string, completing the cubic-kilometer neutrino detector array at the South Pole Station External U.S. government site. [See previous article: Stringing it together.] And the WAIS Divide project External Non-U.S. government site drilling team reached its target depth of 3,331 meters, the USAP’s longest ice core to date from the polar regions. [See previous article: Deep core complete.]

South Pole Station went into hibernation on Feb. 15, with 49 people spending the long, dark winter. Sunset will be on March 23, when the six-month night begins. Palmer Station External U.S. government site, reached via boat from Punta Arenas, Chile, generally operates year-round, with a three-month gap planned this winter between vessel visits.

The U.S. military, under the Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, continued its support during the 2010-2011 season. The LC-130 aircrews from the New York Air National Guard'sExternal U.S. government site 109th Airlift Wing flew 406 missions across the continent, transporting thousands of passengers and 11.3 million pounds of cargo and fuel from the McMurdo to the South Pole and field camps.

Additionally, U.S. Air Force C-17 aircrews from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord External U.S. government site flew 69 missions between Christchurch, New Zealand, and McMurdo Station, transporting nearly 5,500 passengers and more than 4.9 million pounds of cargo. 

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