During the International Geophysical Year, and for several years thereafter, supply ships escorted by ice breaker moored to the sea ice off McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and discharged cargo onto sleds. In the mid-sixties, Winter Quarters Bay was cleared of ice and ships began to dock directly along the shoreline at McMurdo. Elliott Quay, a major dock structure built to arrest the resulting progressive erosion, was destroyed by a freak storm in March 1972. Since then, a succession of man-made ice wharves has been built to handle ship traffic. In January 1991, the newest ice wharf broke into several fragments as a vessel was moored alongside. This paper describes the events preceding the mishap and presents the findings of the task force.


McMurdo Station [77°51" S, 166° 4O"E] is the largest multipurpose research and logistics center in Antarctica and serves as both air and sea hub for the United States Antarctic Program. The station proper is located on bare volcanic rock on the southern reaches of the Hut Point Peninsula, an eleven-mile extension of Ross Island that marks the farthest south land mass accessible by ships traveling in the Ross Sea. Figures I and 2, respectively, present a map of the south polar region and expanded view of the McMurdo Sound study area. Structures at McMurdo Station include science laboratories, dormitories, repair facilities, administrative buildings, stores, clubs, warehouses, a firehouse, powerplant, water distillation plant and communications center that are linked together by an above-ground utility system of water, sewer, telephone and power lines. In addition to the island station and its harbor, located in adjoining Winter Quarters Bay, there are outlying air-support facilities operated seasonally on the sea-ice of McMurdo Sound and on the deep snow blanketing the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

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