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January 4, 2010 Water: a key element to survival

WAIS Divide, Antarctica: Our lives out here at WAIS as core handlers and ice core drillers revolves around ice but, we must have water (in its liquid form) to survive! Even though we are surrounded by snow we have to put lots fuel and energy into turning that snow into potable water.Our camp uses about 200 gallons of water a day for dishes, cooking, drinking water, laundry, showers, etc. On average our camp has a population of about 45 people. That is about 5 gallons of water per person per day. Compare that to the average American, who consumes about 90 gallons of water a day, and we are doing quite well on the water conservation front. However, most of the consumption of water back home is used for waste removal and showers. Since we are only allowed one five-minute shower a week and have no flush toilets, we are able to cut down on our water usage.

So, how do we make 175 gallons of water a day? Our solution is to use snow melters. We have to shovel buckets of snow into the melter, wait for the snow to melt, and then transfer the water to a large tank where it then gets pumped to the sink, shower, or unit where the water is required.

Snow Melter
Here is the snow melter and water tank in the galley.

In a discussion with our electrical foreman, Todd Rampendahl, I found out that the snow melters use large 4,000-watt electric element. These electric immersion heaters use lots of energy all of which comes from our two camp generators. These 225kw CAT generators are run on AN-8 fuel and are more than sufficient to serve all of our energy needs here at camp and at the drill arch. On a daily basis, we consume about 200 gallons of fuel! Keep in mind all of our fuel comes to us by airplane. All in all, supporting this research and all of the people at camp is an energy intensive endeavor that requires the help and expertise of numerous individuals. We are all grateful each day to all of the pilots, fuels operators, mechanics, cargo personnel, and camp staff that make our comfortable life at WAIS Divide possible!

Melting the Snow
Heidi with a bucket of melting snow in the snow melter.
Bucket and Shovel
Our source of snow outside of the galley with the snow bucket and shovels.

Details

Heidi Roop's picture
Author: Heidi Roop
Expedition: Ice Core Drilling in West Antarctica