Where Else Does the U.S. Have an Infrastructure Problem? Antarctica

The deterioration at McMurdo can be seen as an extension of the national infrastructure crisis that President Trump ran for office vowing to fix, even if the problems are 8,000 miles from the mainland United States.



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Interactive Feature: Miles of Ice Collapsing Into the Sea


For the people who operate McMurdo Station, getting by on a shoestring is a point of pride. Trucks and other pieces of heavy equipment are patched again and again, and kept running for decades.

“Anything we get, we squeeze every bit of life out of it,” said Paul Sheppard, a retired Air Force colonel who is the deputy head of Antarctic logistics for the National Science Foundation. “The taxpayers get a tremendous return on investment.”

The United States’ ownership of this prime scientific asset is, in part, a relic of the Cold War. The adversary then was the Soviet Union, and the two nations competed to project influence all over the globe and far into space.

That competition — which took American astronauts to the moon in 1969 — was also a big reason that American flags were ultimately hoisted over the best piece of dry land in Antarctica, on which McMurdo Station sits, and over the most symbolic spot on the continent, the South Pole.

Today China, more than Russia, is the rising competition in Antarctica, identifying research there as a strategic national priority. China has four permanent bases, with a fifth planned. The United States has three bases and multiple field camps, and its overall program is still far larger than China’s.

Much of the American science does not actually happen at McMurdo. The camp is effectively a logistics hub — or, as one committee declared…

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