One physician's experience of providing medical care in Antarctica and on a South Pacific Island
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Room With A View
Yesterday I was treated to a morale trip up the side of Mt. Erebus. You might remember from earlier posts that Mt. Erebus is an active volcano that is on the Ross Island, near Scott Base and McMurdo Station. It constantly emits a large plume of steam and smoke. Occasionally it will belch rocks. You can watch a live video from inside the Mt. Erebus crater at the MEVO website.
The trip started with a briefing on the outing at the Field Safety Training Program offices. Then we selected helmets to fit us. We then took a Hagglunds tracked transport from McMurdo to the Scott Base sea ice transition. The Hagglunds is a Swedish dual-cab, medium class, over snow vehicle. Six persons sat in the rear cab and four sat in the front cab. A minimum thickness of 50 cm of hard ice is required before a Hagglunds can be driven across sea ice. They are powered by turbo diesel engines driving four rubber tracks through an automatic transmission and transfer case.
Once there, we were briefed on the proper operation of the snow mobiles (Bombardier Ski Doos). Interestingly enough, at McMurdo these are called "snow machines" not snow mobiles. I don't know the history or reason behind this change. We rode tandem on the snow machines. There were many bumps and hills that occasionally caused the snow machine to become airborne. We took a route from the sea ice transition up the side of Mt. Erebus until we reached a large dome-like clearing. There was a Scott tent set up and inside it there with a football and soccer ball to play with. The wind was ferocious, probably at about 35 - 50 kts. The view was the most impressive part. There was a giant panorama in 360 degrees that showed Mts. Erebus, Terra Nova and Terror; the glacier that runs down to meet the sea ice;
the back side of Castle Rock; across the Ross Sea to Black Island and White Island;
the Royal Society Mountains;
and finally out to the liquid open water of the Ross Sea.
I could see the path the ice breaker Odin cut and the fuel tanker just behind it bring us 5.5 million gallons of fuel – enough to last the station for the next 12 months. These last photos are of the fuel tanker waiting just outside our ice pier and the pier itself. It was a delightful afternoon outing that really gave one the sense of enormity and grandeur that is Antarctica.
I completed a six month sabbatical to Antarctica that started in September 2008 and concluded in February 2009. During that time I was a physician serving at McMurdo Station, part of the United States Antarctica Program. I was fortunate to spend eleven days at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station during this tour of duty.
Following Antarctica I embarked on an entirely different experience. In June 2009 I moved to Kwajalein in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It is located in the western Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea. There I served as the Chief Medical Officer at the US Army Kwajalein Atoll/Reagan Test Site. That contract completed November 6, 2010.
It is now time for me to return to my ob/gyn roots and settle down again. Numerous practice opportunities are available and I am carefully assessing them.