9 November, 1999
It was a very interesting day in McMurdo. First we found out that the Cape Roberts drilling had reached 705 meters. That makes CRP-3 the deepest drill hole into rock ever in Antarctica. Neat to be part of a world record team even though there have been very few drilling projects on the continent to date. The drilling goes on, so I will keep you posted as new records are broken. I also saw two unusual things today; standing water in the streets; and I spotted two skuas. The weather has been quite warm, close to 30F. The dark, volcanic cinder streets in town absorb the sunlight making them a bit warmer creating the puddles. A skua is a large, gull type bird indigenous to Antarctica. It was quite a surprise to suddenly see birds flying in the sky. I haven't seen any for quite some time. You just get used to looking out into a motionless landscape. I am told that the number of skuas will increase around McMurdo as we go further in to summer. If I get close to one I will try to get a picture. Until then, if you want to see what a skua looks like, check out this site: http://www.mastromedia.com/antarctica/photos/photoant_wildlife_bird_skua.htm
I have been receiving many questions lately. Please keep sending them. I may not be able to answer them all personally, but the questions give me an idea of the types of things you are interested in. Several people have asked me how we get our water in McMurdo. No, we don't melt snow. Although this is how the early explorers did it and today many of the field camps still do. Scott Base, the Kiwi Antarctic station, has an old snow melter and some people around here still remember using it to supply water for the base. However, with as many as 1200 persons at McMurdo, melting snow would not be practical. Although over 70 percent of the world's fresh water is in the Antarctic Ice Sheet, McMurdo and several other bases get their fresh water from the sea. They have a modern desalination plant that uses a process called reverse-osmosis (RO) to remove the salt from the seawater. I made a visit to the desalination plant to see where my drinking water was coming from. Brett O'Dell, a technician at the plant, showed me around. Water is pumped into the plant from McMurdo Sound. It is 28F when it enters the plant (Why doesn't it freeze?). It is warmed up using a heat exchanger. The water is then filtered through Anthracite coal, sand and gravel and is then squeezed through a five-micron filter. The water is then pressurized and forced through long RO units. Reverse osmosis works by forcing the seawater though a semi-permeable membrane which allows the water to go through, but does not allow the dissolved solids, like sodium chloride and other salts, to pass through. So saltwater goes in one end and fresh water comes out the other end. Smaller RO systems are sometimes used in homes and schools to produce clean water. The fresh water then has some chemicals added to it. Carbon dioxide is bubbled through the water to make it slightly acidic (Are my chemistry students listening? 5O.E. points if you can write the ionic equation for this process and e-mail it to me.). The increased acidity allows calcium carbonate that is also added to dissolve in the water. The ions produced by the calcium carbonate are necessary to make the water less corrosive to pipes, prevent leaching of metals into the water and improve the taste. Pure water with nothing dissolved in it tastes pretty bland. Finally a small amount of chlorine is added to kill any bacteria the water may have picked up during the processing. The water is stored in 3 large, 54,000 gallon tanks before it is pumped out to the residents of Mactown.
My personal opinion is that the water tastes quite good here and it is always nice and cold. Speaking of water, I will start the evaporation experiment tomorrow. I will give you my initial depth readings and then update you every day or so. The experiment will run about 2 weeks. Again, if you do not have a copy of the experiment, request one and I will send it.
Today's featured members of the World Record setting CRP-3 Team are the people responsible for data logging the drill hole. They are Chris Buecker and Peter Schulze of BGR, a company from Hanover, Germany and Rich Jarrard of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. At regular intervals (the next time will be at about 770 meters) the entire drill string is removed from the drill hole. It is then that these scientists start their work. They pass several types of probes down the drill hole to make many different types of measurements. Some of the things that are measured are: density, geochemical elements, magnetic properties, temperature, salinity as well as several other geophysical measurements. This data is then taken back to Crary Lab where it is processed and compared with the results of the other scientists to get a more complete picture of the rock that is being drill.
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