Archive for December, 2009


December 19, 2009

December 19, 2009


I think I mentioned the windmills that were installed in an earlier post.  Here is a little more information:

The Ross Island Wind Project was initiated by New Zealand and supported by the National Science Foundation.

When all three windmills are operational and running at full capacity – all of the power for Scott Base and half the power for McMurdo can be generated by the wind.  (I believe those are optimum numbers of good winds and low power usage)   The prediction is that on an annual basis, 22% of the power needed will be generated by the windmills.

These turbines on Ross Island are small compared to the huge turbines you see in Colorado and Wyoming.

They are variable speed.  Each blade can adjust its own pitch automatically.

They turn into the wind automatically.

They start producing power at winds of 7 mph.

They produce max power at winds of 20 mph.

They shut down with winds of 50 mph and greater (to prevent damage).


The summer solstice is only a couple days away and the sun is not where I thought it would be.  I know I’m not at the South Pole, but I envisioned the sun being higher in the sky.  If the horizon is 0 degrees and straight up is 90 degrees, I would say the sun averages about 45 degrees for the day.  It probably gets a little higher than that at times and a little lower at times.  The sun is definitely lower in the sky at “night.”  I notice this mostly because the amount of melting that occurs.  Often, in the morning, we have a thin layer of ice on standing water.  Whereas, around noon and in the afternoon we will have streams of melted snow flowing through town.


Mike and I walked/hiked a 7+  mile trek called the Castle Rock Loop on Saturday.  The weather was close to perfect for us until the last hour or so.  Temperatures were in the mid 30’s and the wind was very light or nonexistent (until the end).

Mike, with Castle Rock in the background.  Castle Rock is bigger than it looks in this picture.

Me, with the frozen McMurdo Sound and the Royal Society Range in the background

One of the emergency shelters along the trail, in case a storm moves in quickly.



December 12, 2009

When Mike and I first saw McMurdo Station we both thought it resembled an old Colorado mining town.  There a numerous barracks style buildings, piles of rocks, and large equipment laying around.  The station was opened by the U.S. Government in the 1950’s. I believe the navy and army were the primary operators back then.

McMurdo’s current overseer is the United States Antarctic Program (USAP).   The USAP is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The USAP is in charge of all U.S. funded research in Antarctica, not just here at McMurdo.  Most of the employees at McMurdo are employed by contractors.  Raytheon is the largest contractor at this time.

A map of McMurdo Station in the McMurdo Station Guide lists over 100 buildings in the area.  All the buildings are numbered.  I sleep in 207, work in 165 and eat in 155.

We have 3 gyms here (aerobics – Bldg 78,  basketball – Bldg 75, weights – 155).

3 clubs or bars (Southern Exposure – 107, Gallagher’s – 108,  Coffee House – 78)

We have a Chapel, Clinic, Post Office, Store, Galley, Power Plant, Water Plant, Waste Water Treatment Plant, and a Library.

There are numerous warehouses, storage buildings, and workshops.  McMurdo has a Fire Station, Helicopter Hanger, Barber Shop, Radio Station, and Weather Office. We have a taxi service and ATM’s.  Anyone can checkout musical instruments, recreation equipment, and costumes.  Numerous bikes are available for all to use.

We have fields to play baseball or rugby.  The bowling alley is no longer open because it partially collapsed.

The galley serves breakfast, lunch & dinner (plus a midnight meal for mid-workers) 7 days a week.

The population of McMurdo during the austral summer is around 1100.  The population is not stable.  Scientists, and contractors alike, are constantly rotating in and out of town. In the winter the population is about 250.  Those 250 are stuck for the duration, because, no flights are made into or out of McMurdo for the 6 months between March and August.

View of McMurdo Station from the air.

Viewed from the Southeast, looking Northwest

The red roofed building is the clinic.  Frozen McMurdo Sound in the background.
Viewed from the North, looking South.  Observation Hill in the background.

The partially viewed large building on the left is 155.  This the heart of the station.  Inside is the galley, computer kiosk, library, store, recreation & housing offices, along with some sleeping quarters.  I was told that the buildings up on the hill is where the nuclear power plant was located.

Buildings 15, 20, 11 and 18.  You often see these moveable huts in different places out on the ice sheet.

The Chalet. (NSF headquarters)


December 5, 2009

December 5, 2009

We have over 1100 people here in town.  Over 55,000 gallons of water is used daily for drinking, cooking, laundry, dishwashing, showers, etc.   The site manager has asked everyone to conserve as much as possible, but I was curious – how do they provide us with so much water?

So, I recently took a tour of the water plant at McMurdo.  We get our water from the ocean right here in McMurdo Sound.   To make it drinkable the salt, along with other impurities must be removed.  I will try to describe the process.

The seawater comes into the plant at 28 degrees.  If the salt were removed at that temperature the water would freeze.  So, the first step is to heat the water to above freezing.  I think they do that with a heat exchanger.  The water (temperature around 36 degrees) then goes into an 18,000 gallon storage tank.

The first step in the filtering process is a multimedia (or sand) filter.  These are tanks with layers of anthracite coal, sand, garnet and gravel.  The water then passes through a series of filters, the last of which is 5 microns.  At this point, none of the salt has been removed, just the larger stuff.  To remove the salt the water has to be pumped through reverse osmosis filters under 850 psi (pounds per square inch) of pressure.  After seeing and feeling the filters, it is easy to see why such a high pressure is needed to force the water through.  The filters are tubular, about 5 inches in diameter and 3 feet long.  Each molecule of water must pass through 24 separate membranes.  Surprisingly, the filters last about 5 years.  The “brine water” is returned to the ocean.

The “pure water” that remains is somewhat acidic.  So, they run it through a tank containing calcium carbonate crystals, which reduces the acidity.  The final step is to add small amounts of chlorine and soda ash to the water (to disinfect and re-adjust the ph level).   We were told that the water in McMurdo Sound is unusually clean and pure, so very little chlorine needs to be added.  A 5 gallon bucket of chlorine lasts them 3 months.  (Sometimes, it smells like the town of Berthoud goes through that much chlorine per hour).  The water is now safe for drinking and is stored in four 54,000 gallon tanks.

Writing this made me wonder:  How do they provide the South Pole with water?  The answer:  they have a special well, called a Rodriquez Well, that melts snow & ice with hot water.  The well is currently melting snow & ice from more than 400 feet below the surface, which has been there since around 500 A.D.  The residents on the South Pole are restricted to two minute showers, twice a week!  For an interesting article about the South Pole’s water situation go to the following article:

The light green tanks are the sand filters.

The white tubes contain the reverse osmosis filters – removing the salt.

One of four 54,000 gallon holding tanks. Mike & plant operator are on the left.

Airport Move

December 5, 2009

December 6, 2009

Ice Runway is closed and Pegasus Field is now open for business.  I have been working in the center and probably wont make it out to Pegasus for another week.

Below are a few pictures relating to Ice Runway and the move.

The above photo was taken from the tower at Ice Runway.  Some of the buildings you see:  firehouse, galley, bathrooms, offices, etc.

Where Ice Runway airport & buildings used to be.  This was taken a couple days ago.  Even less than this remains.

The control tower being towed across the ice shelf to Pegasus Field.  It was a bleak summer day.