McMurdo Dormitories: Like College, but Colder and Full of Science.

At this point in the Antarctic season, everything is about settling in to a new environment:  adjusting to new work schedules, light cycles, social calendars, sleep cycles, and the like.  As the season ramps up, I look forward to telling stories about adventures in the cold!  In the meantime, I will attempt to describe general life on the ice- the things that are the same and the things that are slightly different.  Please feel free to ask questions or prompt me for a post any time!  Cheers!


Where do people live in Antarctica?  Last year, I excitedly posted a short video of my new room in Building 155 (the big blue building, if you’re checking us out on Google Earth.)  But I have since come to realize that there is a lot of mystery surrounding where people live and sleep while on the ice.

Do we live in little huts?  Not at McMurdo- not anymore.
Do we sleep in igloos?  Well, there was this one time… (I’ll post about that later!)
Are there apartments?  Not quite.  We live in dormitories and sometimes, it feels just like a college dormitory:  always something happening, always someone laughing, always that one guy walking around with that funny hat… and there is this really strange smell…

Most Field Camp groups (like Siple Dome or WAIS) sleep in tents, work outside, and eat/entertain in a Quonset hut.  Some stations (like South Pole or Scott Base) keep living and sleeping quarters all inside one building to maximize energy efficiency and minimize the amount of time where people are exposed to the harsh elements.

Here at McMurdo, we sleep in dormitories (there are about 14 dormitory buildings on station), we eat in building 155, and we work in (or based out of) a different building entirely.   Last year was an odd one for me because I lived, worked, and ate in 155.  That is not common, and it is nice to be outside more this year!

Dorms at McMurdo tend to get cute little nicknames: Building 201 is called “Two Oh Fun” and then there is Mammoth Mountain Inn (known as MMI) Hotel California (aka Ho-Cal) down the way.  This year, after orientation, I was handed a key to “Uppercase.”

Uppercase are coveted dorms at McMurdo for a few different reasons:

  1. There are only two beds to a room (compared to the four in building 155.)
  2. There is a sink in every room.
  3. These rooms are on the larger side and laid out well for those who enjoy a “living area” that is separate from their “sleeping area.”
  4. Each room has a connected bathroom that is only shared by four people (or “suitemates”) instead of dozens of people.
  5. Building 209 has some AMAZING views of the bay.

Although I don’t mind walking down the hall to a communal bathroom, or reading in bed instead of on a couch, I was pleasantly surprised to find my new home in building 207 which is one of the three uppercase dorms (along with 208 and 209.)

(Just in case you really are using Google Earth to double check my facts right now, building 206 looks identical to the other three uppercase dorms, but it is only occupied by military and civilians are forbidden to enter without an invitation.  On this same tangent, it’s worth noting that many different work areas get grouped together in specific dorm buildings: NASA in one, pilots in the other, grantees in another.  Generally, all ASC employees- like myself- intermingle in all the other dorm buildings, filling the majority of rooms on station.)

Within two days of arrival, I was unpacked and awaiting the arrival of my mysterious roommate.  Another term that is commonly used on the ice is “roommate roulette.”  Each year, we are given the option to choose a roommate.  If we do not specify a name we are thrown into a hat and paired with someone of the same gender who has the similar snoring habits and smoking preferences.  Because I am an easy-going roommate who likes to make new friends (and I like to make myself nervous!), I opted to play roulette.

I will not know who will be sleeping four feet away from me until her plane lands sometime in the new few weeks.  Until then, I’ll enjoy having my own sink and bedroom!


All settled in to my new living space.  Yes, I bought that tapestry just for Antarctica.  Feels just like home! :)
All settled in to my new living space.  Yes, I bought that tapestry just for Antarctica.  Feels just like home!
A shot of the "living space" in my room, sans roommate.  Looking forward to getting cozier once she arrives!
A shot of the “living space” in my room, sans roommate.  Looking forward to getting cozier once she arrives!

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