Monday, July 3, 2017

Power and Water

Obviously the power plant and water plant are some of the most crucial places to keep running steadily while at the South Pole as they are our only lifelines in the middle of the winter.  We have some rules that apply to us as a population to ensure that we don't abuse these resources, and I'm going to take the time to discuss those rules in this post.


Water is a limited resource for us here.  I don't know the exact mechanisms behind the Rodriguez wells (Rodwells) from which we get our water so I won't discuss too deeply how the water's actually made.  Essentially though the water comes from deep holes that have been drilled into the ice.  Our water on station is therefore all ancient glacial water so that's pretty cool!  The "raw" water from the Rodwell goes through a series of pipes to get to the water plant in the power plant where the water technician will add a number of chemicals to adjust the pH and whatnot.  A few other tests are done to make sure that the water is clean and safe to drink too.

Because water is a limited resource, we have water rations in place.  We each are allowed only two two-minute showers a week and one load of laundry a week.  Some exceptions are in place for those who get dirty;  the galley staff for instance can take as many showers as they need, and the mechanics are allowed to shower whenever they get covered in oil.  Nobody goes around and stands outside of your shower with a stopwatch, but we try to be respectful community members and not abuse the policy.  Our work uniforms also do not count as a load of laundry from what I have been told.  I don't really have a uniform other than the Carhartt bibs I wear everyday, but I guess that can count!

It may sound difficult to limit your showers to just two minutes, but it isn't too bad.  There are quick shutoff buttons on the shower heads so that you don't have to turn off the running water in the middle of your shower.  You also don't get too dirty here since it's difficult to sweat.  I find that showering more often is actually uncomfortable.  My skin and scalp get so dry here that if I shower more than twice a week I'll just be itchy all the time.  Likely sounds gross to those back home who are used to daily showers, but, hey, that's one of the sacrifices we make down here.  If you are that concerned about showering daily, there are always baby wipes to do a quick sink-shower.

Additionally to conserve water, all sinks in the bathrooms (except the power plant bathroom) are equipped with automatic faucets.  These can be a huge pain when trying to wash your face or brush your teeth since you have to hold your hand in front of the sensor to get the water to run, but you learn to deal with it.  It will be nice to get to McMurdo to use the faucets regularly (no auto faucets from what I remember!).

In terms of drinking water, we are allowed to drink as much as we need.  We are in an incredibly dry climate at the Pole so we get dehydrated easily.  Anybody who knows me knows that I drink an insane amount of water each day (6-7 L of water per day).  My consumption rate is slightly higher here, mainly in the mornings, but not much higher.  Coming to the Pole actually had me nervous that I'd be policed for how much water I drink, but luckily it's a health and safety aspect of life here so nobody has any big issues with it.


Jason is the lead for the power plant and is therefore in charge of the power and water creation here.  One of his pet peeves is when people leave the lights on in rooms that are not in use.  It's a waste of power, and we really shouldn't be doing that.  Fuel is another precious resource, and, while we do have a lot of fuel this season, we should be aware of how much we are wasting when leaving random lights on.  I do find it hilarious how many lights are left on in unused rooms (have these people never paid a power bill before?!), and often I get dragged along on the nightly rounds of the elevated station to turn off the unused lights.

There aren't any strict regulations on how much power we use, but I do know that he has certain rules in place.  If anything big is to happen in terms of power changes, he likes people to contact him/the person on call in the power plant so they are aware of the changes taking place.  For instance, turning on all appliances in the galley warrants a call to the power plant.  Turning off one of the power logic controllers at an out building also warrants a call otherwise he'll think that they're losing power to that building and start trying to troubleshoot.

Because the power plant is our life source (no power means no heat and no water), the guys in the power plant take their jobs seriously.  They always ensure that we have a backup generator available in the case of any issues that could arise.  They also take heed to perform the maintenance on the generators on schedule.  Recently they had to do a large overhaul of generator 3 (we have 3 main generators and a peaker as well as 2 smaller generators in the emergency power plant) and a top end rebuild of generator 2.  They should be good to go for the rest of the season now!

In the event of a power outage, Jason and all of the other guys in the PP head straight to the PP to deal with the issue.  If we had a massive catastrophe that meant we lost the power plant, we would end up running the station off of the emergency power plant in the B pod.  All science would cease at that point and we would essentially be in survivability mode.  The EPP is capable of powering the elevated station so we should be okay in terms of comfort, but, again, the biggest priority would be surviving.  Worst case scenario, everybody would have to move into the B pod and survive there.  Luckily it has never come to that, and let's hope that trend continues.

Life here obviously requires some adjustments that you otherwise wouldn't have to deal with back home.  The water rations are likely the biggest things that affect our day to day life, but it really isn't as bad as I had thought it would be prior to arriving here.  I can say though that it will be nice to hit Christchurch and take a long shower.  Yes, I'm going to be bad and waste some water.  Wouldn't you after not having a shower that's long enough to steam mirrors in a year?