Research Update

Our day began with a webinar about our research! We talked to thousands of students across the U.S. and beyond with the help of PolarTREC. Students asked great questions and it felt good to share the work we are doing with the public.

Michelle Brown, Andrew Klein, Terry Palmer and Steve Sweet answer questions during the Antarctica Day Webinar.

After the webinar, the research team collected sediment samples from around McMurdo Station. We went out to the area between Scott Base and McMurdo Station and collected sediment in areas where there has been development. After lunch the team went back out to the field to collect more sediment samples. I had to organize my dorm room for an inspection, since I am leaving tomorrow. I also took a tour of the utility plants here at McMurdo Station.

Sampling at McMurdo Station
Steve Sweet shows Carl Green sampling locations as they prepare to collect sediment samples around the station.

Although I will have time to help collect sediments tomorrow, it is sad to realize that the end of my time here is fast approaching. This afternoon I "bag dragged", which means I dropped off my checked bags for my flight tomorrow. Although there is always a chance my flight will be cancelled, I am scheduled to fly out at 6 p.m. tomorrow evening.

The Utilities of McMurdo Station

A lot of work is done behind the scenes to make research run smoothly and our lives comfortable at McMurdo Station. The utilities play a large role in this and today I toured three utility stations.

The Power Plant

Ron, who is the head of the utilities department here, was available to give me and other interested McMurdo residents a tour of the power plant. The power plant was commissioned in 2010 and keeps electricity flowing for both McMurdo Station and neighboring Scott Base. McMurdo station runs mostly on power from fuel. Wind power from Scott Bases' three wind turbines is also used to supplement the power plant. The plant uses jet fuel to power one to two generators at a time. The generators act like other machines you may be familiar with, such as a car engines. Pistons move due to pressure from ignition and combustion, allowing electricity to be created as a magnet moves around a wire.

Pistons in the power generator
Pistons can be seen in a generator at the power plant that has been opened up.

Most electronics require about 110 Volts of electricity to operate in the U.S. The generator puts out a voltage of 4160 Volts. This energy gets moved to a switch gear where the voltage is changed so that it can be used at the station.

Ron and the switch gear
Ron shows us the switch gears which allow electricity to be used at the station.

A student in this morning's webinar asked how much fuel we use here. When I asked Ron, he told me they are currently using 60 gallons an hour. It is difficult to estimate how many gallons are used annually since the rate of fuel being burned changes as more people come to the station.

Michelle at the power plant
Michelle Brown stands in front of a generator at the Power Plant.

Although we use a lot of fuel to run McMurdo Station, the plant is also trying to conserve energy. Just like in a car, burning fuel creates hot exhaust. That heat is trapped and used to heat dorm rooms, as well as Building 155--the big blue building which houses the cafeteria and other important operations. The plant is continually trying find ways to conserve energy.

Math Connection

A typical barrel of oil holds 42 gallons. How many barrels of oil are burned in a day at the current rate?

The Water Processing Plant

After learning about the power plant, we met Al Berggren at the water processing plant. Al has been coming to Antarctica for over 20 years. He makes sure the fresh water at McMurdo Station is filtered correctly. It is taken in as salt water from McMurdo Sound and purified to become drinkable water through reverse osmosis. In this process, salt water is forced through small openings, trapping the salt to create filtered water. To get the water filtered, salt water has to be pushed through many layers of semipermeable membranes at a minimum pressure of 300 pounds per square inch. At McMurdo Station, water is pushed through the membranes at around 700 pounds per square inch to get 27 gallons of drinkable water per minute.

Water filter
A water filter contains many layers of filters which separate the salt from the water.

The sea water is 28 degrees Fahrenheit as it comes into the station and warms to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. First sediments are filtered out of the water, then the salt is filtered out. Chlorine is added to the water to disinfect it and soda ash is added to get the water to a correct pH level. The station is capable of making 400,000 gallons of water a day, which is stored in giant containers in the station.

Water tank
There are large water storage tanks to hold fresh water for the station.

Critical Thinking

Why is salt water warmed up before it is filtered? What would happen to the salt water as it becomes filtered if it wasn't warmed up?

The Waste Water Treatment Plant

The last plant that we visited on our tour was the Waste Water Treatment Plant. When water goes down a drain here, whether it is the toilet or the sink, it ends up at the plant.

Michelle at the Waste Water Treatment Plant
Michelle Brown stands above waste water, including sewage, as it is processed at the waste water treatment plant.

Solid waste goes through a series of steps to get processed before it gets shipped back to the U.S. and incinerated. The first step is for waste to get masticated, or chewed up. It then flows through a screen which helps remove objects that are not waste. Phones, pens and other random objects have been found in the screen! Afterwards, it gets aerated--air mixes with the waste and ammonia and nitrogen are removed. The waste water then travels to a clarified water container, where solid waste settles down and the water above it moves along to be treated and returned to McMurdo Sound. The solid waste that has settled out gets moved into a digester. The digester continues to aerate and stabilize the waste with the help of microorganisms until it gets put through a Belt Filter Press, which squeezes excess water out of the waste, allowing it to be packed into containers and shipped to the U.S. to be incinerated.

How waste gets processed
The chart on the wall at the waste water treatment plant explains how waste gets processed.

My favorite part of the waste water treatment plant tour was seeing the microorganisms that help digest and decompose the waste. Yubecca, a biologist and plant operator, showed us the microorganisms that live in the waste and help break it down.

Microorganisms in waste
Microorganisms could be seen with a microscope in the waste water at the plant.

It was really helpful to see how energy, water and waste get used and processed at McMurdo Station. Much of my team's research is connected to these issues and it helped me better understand the cycle of waste and energy here.

Life in Antarctica

With 8,000 miles between us and the United States, you may think it is difficult to listen to some familiar music on the radio. However, McMurdo Station has two radio stations! One streams news and shows from NPR and the other station is hosted live in Building 155--the big blue building here at McMurdo.

Radio station in Antarctica
DJs play music at the radio station in McMurdo Station.

Ice Picture of the Day

Today's Ice POD is about the diversity in the waste water! Click here to download a PowerPoint Presentation: 22_icepod.pptx

Ice Picture of the Day, day 22
Learn more about the microorganisms in waste water in today's Ice POD.

Brought to you by...

Today's journal is brought to you by Ms. Kreuter's class at Nittany Valley Charter School in State College, Pennsylvania.

Brought to you by Ms. Kreuter's class.
Today's journal is brought to you by Ms. Kreuter's class at Nittany Valley Charter School in State College, PA.

McMurdo Station
Weather Summary
27 F
Wind Speed
6 knots
Wind Chill
19 F
Attachment Size
22_icepod.pptx250.92 KB 250.92 KB



how was it in antarctica did you get really cold? the penguins look really cool in the blog i read it every day did you dive in the holes ? the answer is 28,224


My question is: What schools did you talk to?


How was the webinar?


What did the radio stations play?And did the other people talk to the kids?


I think I have the answer to the math problem.Is it 34.285714?


I think I have the answer to the math problem.Is it 34.285714?


I think I have the answer to the math problem.Is it 34.285714?


Hi Michelle!I have a question:
Why did you chose antarctica? Theres lots of other places you could of chosen like Africa or Asia out of all the other places why antarctica. There are lots of other places that have waste like Africa so why did you chose antarctica? You need to have a lot of gear to travel in antarctica but not much gear in Africa.
Also people must be clumsy to drop pens and phones in the ocean.


why are there so many math stuff on this antarctica website LUCA


We found 34.285714 gallons as the answer to the Math Connection question. Is that the answer?


Hi! I think the math thinking question is 34.285714. Is that right?


Is the answer 34.285714?

Mary Beth

HI Ms. Brown!
We are at PFE today on this rainy morning, reading all of your journal entries... wow have you been busy!!
We can't wait to have you come back to the classroom to visit us when things get back to normal for you.

My wondering today is about the water. Does the water that get's filtered taste like it does at home? Or does it taste a little like treated water from a city tap?

Looking forward to hearing back from you!
Mary Beth


think that the answer is 34.2857142857 how was the webinar

Michelle Brown

status: 1Good job Sean! Yes--you are right, about 34 barrels of oil are burned a day
at the current rate. The webinar was wonderful -- thank you for asking!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Mary Beth! I am happy to hear you have been reading the journals and am
excited to return to visit your classroom! The water here does not taste
treated at all! Although there is soda ash and chlorine in it, I have not
tasted it in the drinking water.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Great job Hannah! Yes, about 34 barrels of oil are getting burned a day
here at McMurdo Station right now.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Ellie, Yes, you are correct! About 34 barrels of oil are getting burned
a day here at McMurdo Station right now.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Ayla, You answered the question correctly--good job! About 34 barrels of
oil are getting burned a day here at McMurdo Station right now.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Kevin,
We talked to many schools from across the country and even the world! There
were schools from California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania and lots of
other places. There also were schools in New Zealand and perhaps other
countries that participated. The sign up sheet had over 2000 students
listed, and countries like Belgium and Italy were included!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Luca!
I like to incorporate math into the blogs whenever I can. One reason is
that it is quite relevant to figuring out what is really going on! For
example, in this journal I asked how many barrels of oil were being used in
a day. That requires you to take the rate of gallons being spent and
multiply it by 24 hours in a day and divide by the number of gallons in a
barrel. Although that is complicated, it gives you a much better idea of
just how much fuel we require than when looking at just the rate.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Kevin,
This is a great question! In 2011 I chose Antarctica because it seemed like
a fascinating place and I was eager to work with scientists whose work
brought them here. This year, Antarctica chose me! I received a call
inviting me back and I found it was an important opportunity. Africa and
Asia are interesting too, but I'm really interested in a lot of the science
that is connected to Antarctica. And people were clumsy! Although they
weren't dropping pens and phones in the ocean, but down their toilets!

Michelle Brown

status: 1One radio station plays news while the other one plays lots of different
music. Carl and I walked by one day and were even asked for a request!
Yes--in the webinar, the whole research team was there and answered
questions that students asked.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Luca,
Yes--you are correct! About 34 barrels of oil are getting burned a day here
at McMurdo Station right now.

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Sean,
Antarctica has been an amazing experience. I luckily do not get very cold
since I am always wearing lots of layers here. The penguins are really
cool--I hope I can show you some videos of them too. I'm so happy you read
the blog every day! I didn't dive in the dive holes, but Terry who is on
our team did! Your answer is so close! The correct answer is about 34
barrels of oil are getting burned a day here at McMurdo Station right now.

Zoe Currall

No wonder you were holding your nose! There's sewage in there!


the answer to the math problem is 34.2857143


what is your favorite time at McMurdo Station?

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hi Zoe,
Actually it didn't smell that bad--I was doing it as a joke! I was
expecting the plant to smell strongly, but since it is aerated, it actually
just smells earthy!

Michelle Brown

status: 1Great job Elijah! You are correct--it would require about 34 barrels of

Michelle Brown

status: 1Hmmmm... This is a very tricky question Taiki. There have been moments here
where I have been alone looking out at the continent of Antarctica, sitting
and watching penguins and seals, looking at Mt. Erebus and McMurdo Station
from afar, where I have really felt connected to the continent. I suppose
those are my favorite times here!