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McMurdo Sound

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on March 14, 2014

The southernmost body of navigable water in the world

McMurdo Sound (approximately 35 miles long and 30 miles wide) connects the Ross Sea to the north to the Ross Ice Shelf on the coast of Antarctica due south of New Zealand.  This body of water, frequently ice-covered, was discovered by Captain James Clark Ross in February 1841 and named after Lieutenant Archibald McMurdo of the HMS Terror, one of the ships in the expedition.  The largest island in the Sound is Ross Island, named for the expedition leader.  The island is dominated by the volcanic Mount Erebus (12,448 feet above sea level at its peak).  The island also hosts the largest human habitation in Antarctica – McMurdo Station, operated by the United States Antarctic Program.  It has been continuously manned since its establishment in 1957-58.  Nearby is the smaller Scott Base, operated by Antarctica New Zealand.  McMurdo Station is resupplied each Antarctic summer by an ice-strengthened tanker and an ice-strengthened cargo ship.  An icebreaker, though, is required to open a channel from the Ross Sea to Winter Quarters Bay near the Station.  The bay got its name when it served as the base for Robert Falcon Scott’s National Antarctic Discovery Expedition of 1901-04, which wintered over there for two seasons.  Winter Quarters Bay is the southernmost port in the world.  Water circulation in McMurdo Sound, and particularly in Winter Quarters Bay, is minimal.  This has resulted in a high level of pollution.  Aircraft flying to McMurdo Station land on the airstrip at Williams Field on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.  The airfield is named for Richard T. Williams, a Seabee tractor driver who drowned nearby in 1956.  Cold winds off the Antarctic plateau keep temperatures as low as -59°F in the winter, with summer highs averaging a relatively balmy 30°F.  The Sound is populated by killer whales, seals, Adélie penguins, and Emperor penguins.  

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