The BFC — Berg Field Center

The BFC — The Berg Field Center

Named after Thomas Berg, a geologist who died in 1969 when the helicopter he was in crashed near Mt. Newell, the Berg Field Center supplies anyone using gear outside of McMurdo Station.  This includes the gear we used in Happy Camper School, and the gear for all field camps…large or small.  The Berg Field Center will be supplying all of the gear that we will use in our deep field camp at Lake Whillans.

I stopped at the BFC today to speak with Meghan, who coordinates the efforts of many people in this building and department. It’s her eighth season on the ice, and her fourth summer season at the BFC.  She has also wintered over two times, working at the BFC during those long, dark winter months.  She hails from Duluth, Minnesota and says that she first heard about coming to the ice from one of her college professors.  He had talked about the program and she never forgot about it.  Of course, if you are from Duluth, MN, you are no stranger to cold and snow!  Meghan arrives here on Winfly (winter fly-in) and stays for about six months.  She tries to mix in travel after she gets off the ice, as many people who work here tie into their schedule when they leave McMurdo.

Meghan says that she likes this job because she gets to work hands-on with every single field-deployed science group.  She has a degree in biochemistry, and a keen interest in the science research taking place in Antarctica.  She works on the planning and implementation of the logistics of each project.  Before coming to the ice each season, she reads over what is called the SIP (science implementation plan) and figures out the best gear for the location of the field camp/project.  She has to consider flight weights, fuel for the altitude, bags needed, how the people are being deployed (helicopter, plane, snowmobile, etc.) and determine which supplies best meet their needs.

Meghan gave me a tour of the BFC facility.  It’s got so many storage rooms, for just about every item you’d need to set up a field camp or conduct science work in a remote area.  Here are some photos and I’ve included a bit of information for each one.

One of the first things your eyes focus on when you enter this building are rows of Scott tents hanging from the ceiling to the floor. Named after explorer Robert Scott, these large tens can hold several people as well as their gear.  There are 136 Scott tents as part of the BFC supply. 

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There are also the large tents shown below…they look like a banana when stored in their case.

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There are “cages” that are really just storage areas for each science research group. The supplies they need are stored there until the group is put in the field.  And, while the group is in the field, their personal items can be stored in the cage. 

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The BFC also has a supply of expedition tents and a tent called the Arctic Oven.  I know for WISSARD new 8 x 8 foot tents were ordered for our deep field camp.  Each person in our camp will have their own 8 x 8 foot tent to sleep in and store their gear. 

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There are a large number of sleeping bags and pads stored here.

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Sometimes science groups might need additional backpacks.  I saw rows and rows to choose from.

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Then of course groups need water bottles. 

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Upstairs I saw a huge Scrabble board.  There used to be a McMurdo Monopoly board instead, but Meghan says they change it up once in a while. 

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There are a number of smaller rooms upstairs, all with a different purpose.  First we saw the tool room, which is super organized!  There is an enormous selection of tools which might be needed in a field camp.

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I liked this list that helped people figure out which tool was which.  It’s like a “tools for dummies” guide.

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The next room we visited was the instrument room.  It had compasses weighted for the Southern Hemisphere, GPS (Global Postioning System) units, extension cords, thermometers, and giant Gamow bags used to help people get used to higher altitudes when they are not feeling well. It’s like a large plastic bag that’s pressurized and helps alleviate altitude sickness. 

I can’t remember whether it was this room or not, but one of the rooms even had games groups could check out to take into the field.  I brought cards, Yahtzee, and Bananagrams to use in our field camp.  I also brought a small football to toss around.  

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The next room was the sewing room. There are FIVE machines in there!  There is a regular machine, a Singer long-arm machine and others than can all perform special types of sewing support.  This is the long-arm machine that can work on the Scott tents and larger items.

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There is a special drying area, which is used when equipment comes back from the field and needs to dry or air out.  Notice the racks for hanging these items.

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A bit farther down the hallway was the climbing room. With ropes, ice axes, harnesses, caribeeners, and crampons to attach to boots, this was a mountaineering supply room for sure!

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I think you’ll agree that the sharp points on those crampons above would make it easier to grip on the ice and snow.

The stove room is where they not only store the stoves, but work on them.  Camp stoves have to be safe and in good working order. Colman two burner stoves are a favorite of the old timers here in Antarctica.  They burn white gas. There are other Coleman stoves that burn propane, and are easier to use.  The small, one-burner stoves like the ones we used at Happy Camper school are often used in smaller field camps.   The MSR Whisperlite stove is a favorite here. There are also Coleman ovens, lanterns, and propane heaters.

There is a whole room devoted to cooking supplies and utensils.  It is well-stocked and even has small camp coffee pots and larger pots and pans.

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An extra supply room has specialty items such as drills for the ice, as shown below.

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Meghan mentioned that nothing gets thrown away here.  They are hoarders, repairers by nature, and everything that can be recycled IS recycled.  People who winter over and work in the BFC spend long months cleaning and repairing every single thing in this warehouse. Meghan said that EVERYTHING in this building is checked and that all tasks rarely get completed in the winter months.  This includes repairing every tent, stove, sleeping bag, etc. and cataloging thousands of items.  Meghan and her staff are super organized. 

It’s easy to see why the BFC is so important in terms of supporting the science that goes on here.  Without the expertise, skill, and organization of people like Meghan and her staff, science teams wouldn’t be ready to head into the field to conduct their research.

I’ll leave you with one final photo.  These sleds are still used by many teams in the field. Perhaps once pulled by dog teams, they are now towed by snowmobiles.  They carry supplies and food into field camps and are a nice reminder to me of all of the expeditions that have taken place on this icy continent.

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I hope you all had a great holiday!  Stop back in to read and learn more tomorrow!

3 responses to “The BFC — Berg Field Center

  1. That’s pretty neat to see. It looks like Santa’s workshop for the Antarctic outdoorsman. In the Army, we have our S4, which primarily deals with supply. Their warehouses are big containers similar to the NIU container that you previously showed. In them, are all of the necessary items to fight a war (ink cartidges, printers, computers, pens, etc.) It provides a whole new meaning to the term, “death by Powerpoint.”

    • “Death by PowerPoint” made me crack up, Matt! And you are right, the BFC was like Santa’s workshop for the outdoor lover. It was a larger version of the camping gear in our basement! 🙂 Miss you!

  2. Does anyone know what the BFC was called before it was renamed? I imagine something technical and Navy-like.

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