Leaving Antarctica is no small feat. We have to break down and store the contents of an entire laboratory (that we set up just weeks earlier). Some items are returned to the Crary Laboratory stockroom, others are put in boxes for “the line” (overwinter storage in big wooden boxes that are kept outside, so things inside must be okay to freeze), extra chemicals are stored in the LTER lab, and finally, the most fragile items are moved into the cage (small locker-like cage that is indoors, so microscope accessories and other fragile items are kept here).

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Example of a box “from the line.” These boxes are filled with our laboratory and sampling equipment and stored outside over the winter. Photo by: Matt Knox

Samples must be prepared for shipment, a process which includes packing, weighing, measuring and labelling boxes, and grappling with an electronic shipping system that is still based on the MS software Access. It’s not only the organisms that live long in Antarctica!

Once everything is packed away, we have to clean – lab space, office space, and our own dorm rooms. Then, these rooms must pass inspection or we have to clean again.

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Walter boarding “Ivan” the Terra Bus for transport. Photo by: Jessica Trout-Haney

Finally, the evening before leaving, we take our own bags to be checked in for our flight. This process is literally officially called “bag drag.” At this time, we find out our transport time for the next morning (it can take over an hour to just get to the plane, so we have to arrive at this time for transport to the airplane). For the last night in McMurdo, you only have your carry-on bag with you – better remember to keep your toothbrush!

Written by: Ashley Shaw

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