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Mr. Pastirik's Daily Log 23 November 2005

November 23, 2005

Today, the wind blew fairly strongly in the morning. The ridge line on which I hiked led to a memorial (usually designated by a cross) offered spectacular views of McMurdo Sound and Station, as well as Black and White Islands. These islands are so named because of the relative amount of snow cover on each. Looking in the direction of the islands tells me I am looking south toward ever colder places. The memorial is dedicated to Richard T. Williams of which Willie Field is named. Willie Field is the airstrip closer to the Kiwi Station on the thicker Ross Ice Shelf. It will be used later in the season after the cargo ship comes in to McMurdo. Interestingly, the pier that will be used to unload new supplies and load the ship with waste and unwanted materials will be built of ice.

I ate a piece of breakfast pastry and had a quick cup of coffee before setting off to the three big and important plants of power, water, and wastewater treatment. My first stop was the power plant. It is big and noisy, as belies its purpose. The six engines or generators found in the plant were commissioned in 1981. Three of the six engines are working all the time, while the other three are there for emergencies or undergoing routine maintenance. In order to minimize waste, and conserve fuel (diesel) in addition to the electricity generated at the plant, the heat generated by the engines is tapped to heat buildings all around the station in a process called co-generation. Jordan Dickens, plant supervisor, was justifiably proud of this and pointed to the nearly 750,000 gallons of diesel fuel saved annually.

From the power plant, I proceeded to the water (supply) plant. We are surrounded by water here in the form of ice and sea water. Sea water, liquid at 28 degrees Fahrenheit is taken from beneath the ice, heated to 37 degrees Fahrenheit and purified through a process called reverse osmosis. The plant generates 120,000 gallons of fresh water daily.

Finally, I visited the wastewater treatment plant. It had an aroma, but it wasn’t that bad. One thousand plus people generate a great deal of waste water and sewage. Upon entering the plant, raw sewage is ground up, and screened and directed through a series of chambers. A combination of air (oxygen), mixing, and microbes work together to break down the sewage into sludge. After settling the clarified water is removed, and disinfected with ultraviolet (UV) light. At this stage the now clean water is sent back into the sea under the ice. The sludge which settled at the bottom of the clarified sewage is compressed into bio-solid cakes or just cakes, and then shipped back to the United States. To be on the safe side, I slathered on the hand-sanitizer several times.

After lunch, I worked with Doug on a “snow sniffer”. It will be used to detect nitrogen in the snow at a depth of about twenty inches.

I couldn’t help but notice the obvious today. The station is a place without the laughter of children or the wisdom and eye twinkles of older folks. I miss both. Young adults and middle-aged folks are well represented here. The difficulty in ensuring the health and safety of the young and old, as well as the cost of feeding, housing, etc. must be overwhelming. Too bad really, it is a less rich place for it.

It is cold, windy, and overcast tonight. A warm room, with a soft pillow is calling me. Take care of one another. mp