Photo: McMurdo Station (“Town”) from Observation Hill (“Ob Hill”); photo by Gaelen Marsden
Antarctica may not have a long human history but it certainly has culture(s). And one way this is expressed, at least in my heretofore limited experience, is in the language–what Bakhtin called “speech genres.” As a citizen of a Communication Studies department, I am perhaps especially attuned to hearing these. Some of the patois I’ve encountered thus far comes from the American military and military subcontractors, no doubt via their maintenance of aspects of the bases. That means a heck of a lot of acronyms–the NSF likes these, too. For awhile whenever we had a conference call or a new document (and there is a lot of that in this process) I felt like I needed a decoder ring. Here is a short list of some of my Antarctic vocabulary thus far. I may be using these terms incorrectly or awkwardly at this point. As Bakhtin says, one does not learn speech genres from a book; one learns on the street (or The Ice, in the present context). And I’m not there yet.
The Ice: term for Antarctica. As in, “Are you going to be on the ice this year?” Yes!
Pole: When you’re down there you don’t call it the South Pole. It would be ridiculous to be going to the North Pole from Antarctica. Somehow the article seems to have fallen away as well, so it’s just Pole.
Deploy: clearly military in origin. One “deploys” to the Ice, unless one is a tourist. Then I guess one just goes.
PQ or PQed or PQing: short for Physically Qualifying. Before you may deploy you must meet physical requirements, which vary according to when you are going (winter is way different), what you are doing, how old you are, and other factors I am sure. It’s a process. You get a lot of your hood looked under. Tests, pokes, prodding, and you have to pay for it yourself and fax the results in (which for me involved a trip to the hardware store, which, fax-wise, is how we roll in our little town). It made me incredibly anxious because it was pages and pages and lots of appointments, and because I am not the spring chicken I once was. But basically it makes good sense: they don’t want you to have a medical emergency on base, because care there is pretty basic and it’s a long way to a hospital. You need to have dentistry attended to as well to PQ. When I PQed I was so darn happy.
USAP: United States Antarctic Program. The US maintains 3 bases on the Ice: Palmer Station on the peninsula side, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station at Pole, and the largest, McMurdo Station, on Ross Island on the opposite side.
Town: McMurdo is the largest station by far. In the lingo it is also McTown or just Town. This reminds me of when I was with friends in the Outer Hebrides last year, on Lewis, and people talked about going to town. They meant Stornoway. It is the only town. McMurdo is not really a town–I guess that depends on one’s definition– but the closest thing to one. There are many more bases on the continent, maintained by upwards of 30 nations, but McMurdo is the largest. Here is Cool Antarctica’s list with data about years established, populations, etc.: http://www.coolantarctica.com/Community/antarctic_bases.htm. There are also many impermanent field camps established for research mostly in the summers, of course–the research season.
ASA: Antarctic Support Associates, who are in my book some really great people. You can string all together the good folks who support us and you get alphabet soup: NSF USAP ASA.
LTER: long term ecological research sponsored by NSF. I assume there are other sites–OK, I just googled it and there are–but the one that concerns me is the one in the McMurdo Dry Valleys: “The McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER project is an interdisciplinary study of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in a cold desert region of Antarctica.” Read more about it here: http://www.mcmlter.org. Ever since I read about the Dry Valleys, about Scott stumbling into them on his first Antarctic expedition, Discovery, and the subsequent exploration of them on other expeditions, I have wanted to go. And it’s on our itinerary. I hope it works out. Here’s a virtual tour from some good folks in the Geology Dept at Portland State University: http://www.glaciers.pdx.edu/Projects/Antarctica/McMurdoVT/index.html. LSU scientists have been doing research here, at (in? on? See, this is where I sound like a greenhorn) the Taylor glacier for some time, burrowing into the glacier to find ancient microbes.
Helo time: one reaches the Dry Valleys, and some other places we are going, via helicopter. From what I can tell, helo trips are measured in time.
CDC (no, not the one in Atlanta, the one in Christchurch, NZ) and ECW: we will get our loaned Extreme Cold Weather Gear, including the iconic red parka, at the Clothing Distribution Center in Christchurch the day before our flight to the ice. Other lingo bristles out of this experience, like the boomerang bag which sounded like fun until I learned it’s the bag you pack with stuff like your toothbrush and your jammies that you’d need if your flight was scrubbed due to weather or mechanical problems and you wound up back at your hotel in Cnristchurch. They don’t take off all the cargo, so you just get back your boomerang bag.
I could go on and on, but the USAP has kindly provided a glossary for the Participants Guide which has become my bible of sorts, here: http://www.usap.gov/USAPgov/travelAndDeployment/documents/ParticipantGuide-Glossary.pdf
Deployment in 4 days!