Seasons of McMurdo

June 21st marked Midwinter’s day, an important holiday for Antarctic winter overs. It is the middle of the winter season meaning there are now more days of darkness behind us than ahead.

Over the past few months I have observed the changing seasons from my office, from the balmy 35 degree summer to the current -30 degree winter. Here are a few pictures of the transition to summer to winter.



Creating a Python Web App with Heroku

I decided to create a simple web application with Heroku to help improve my Python skills.

This application uses beautifulsoup to scrape Linux distribution websites for .torrent files of their ISOs.

Once the torrents are downloaded they can be accessed via HTTP using simplehttpserver running on a Heroku web dyno.

The application also records its access times in Heroku’s Postgres service using SQLAlchemy.

You can see the site in action here and check out the source code at my github account here.





Cisco Autonomous Access Points in Point to Multipoint Configuration

In certain circumstances it is not feasible or desirable to use wired links for a network distribution layer, for example in temporary setups or in locations with little infrastructure.

A point to multipoint wireless solution makes sense in these scenarios, offering a distribution layer with the minimum of equipment, time, and effort.

This type of setup consist of a wireless root access point and multiple non-root client access points as shown below.

Point to Multipoint.png

For this configuration we are using Cisco 2602 access points with autonomous IOS software. Cisco differentiates autonomous and lightweight IOS images with the following feature codes:

  • k9w7 – Fully Autonomous IOS
  • k9w8 – Standard lightweight IOS

Once you have installed the autonomous IOS image, you can use this template to configure the access points.

The APs should show they are connected by changing their status lights to blue, and you can check the association status with the following command.

TEST_NON_ROOT_AP#sh dot11 associations

802.11 Client Stations on Dot11Radio0:


MAC Address    IP address      IPV6 address                           Device        Name            Parent         State
189c.5d83.7a40    ::                                     bridge        TEST_ROOT_AP    -              Assoc




It has been very busy at McMurdo for the past few weeks. Every year the research station is resupplied by sea. This time, known as “vessel,” is one of the operational high points of the summer season. Hundreds of additional cargo handlers are flown in for the job, making the station feel quite crowded.

This year four ships came into McMurdo Sound and docked at the ice pier, a man made iceberg which is thick enough to facilitate cargo on load and offload. The ships which visited were:

The Polar Star is the first to arrive, this year cutting through 60 miles of 8ft thick ice to reach the port. This ship clears the way for the other vessels.

The Nathaniel B. Palmer is a NSF research vessel which docked at McMurdo to refuel and change crews.

The Ocean Giant supplied the station with a years worth of supplies, everything from science equipment, construction materials, and food is brought in on the ship. The ship returns to the US with all of the trash and waste produced by the station over a year.

The Maersk Peary supplied the station with fuel which is used for power generation, vehicles, heating, and refueling ships.

I was able to participate in line handling this year, which is the process of mooring the ships to the land by attaching strong ropes to bollards on shore.

Each of the ships gave tours, where the crew were nice enough to show us around their ship. It was very fun and interesting to learn a bit about naval architecture.

As vessel winds up, the station population is beginning its decline as we close out the summer season. In a few weeks only the winter personnel will remain, cutting the population from nearly 1000 to about 150. And I will be one of the few staying!

Room With a View

Working in Antarctica has some nice perks, one of which are the amazing recreational trips organized by the rec office.

Recently I was able to take part in “Room With A View”, a trip by snowmobile to the base of Mount Erebus. Two leaders brought eight of us on the ~1 hour ride out to the small base camp.

It was really fun learning to ride a snowmobile out into such a remote area. We got to hang around for about an hour at the camp, make snow angles, and have a snowball fight before returning to McMurdo.

Black Island

This week I traveled to Black Island, the location of the satellite telecommunications facility for McMurdo.

Black Island is located a few miles south of Ross Island and I was very excited to have a chance to ride a helicopter out to perform maintenance on the systems there!

A friendly pilot brought us on the roughly twenty minute ride from McMurdo Station to Black Island, where two of my colleagues and I worked for the day.

While there, we met with the two custodians of the facility who were very generous in showing us around and cooking us a a delicious lunch of crepes.

Below are a few photos from this amazing trip!


Cape Evans

Last week I was fortunate enough to take a trip out to Cape Evans, the site of Scott’s Hut, where Scott staged for his failed trip to the geographic south pole.

Cape Evans is a few miles north of McMurdo Station. Two drivers were kind enough to volunteer their time to shuttle a small group of us to this historic site. We drove across the ice shelf for about one hour each way, passing beautiful glaciers and dramatic islands on our trip.

The Hut itself has been amazingly well preserved; it is truly taking a walk through history. The expedition’s supplies look undisturbed, you can still see their scientific equipment, bedding, dining table, food, and even their supply of seal blubber they used for fuel remains.

From the Cape their are stunning views of Mount Erebus and nearby glaciers. Near the site there is a hill with a cross commemorating the members of Shackleton’s expedition who did not return.

It was an amazing experience to see such an important place of Antarctic history so well preserved!