Thursday, May 6, 2010

Answers to South Pole Questions

To answer some recently asked questions:
  1. Is the Pole Marker moving away from the station?  The station sits on a 3.5 kilometer thick ice sheet and that sheet is moving about 30 feet per year, so we have to move the pole marker that amount every January to keep it over the true Pole.  Currently the marker is moved along the front of the station from left to right so it isn't really getting further from the station, but in a few years it will start moving off into the ice.
  2. How do we heat the station?  Ninety-nine percent of our energy comes from winterized aviation fuel, which is basically kerosene fuel.  Everything on the station runs on this fuel except two gasoline-powered snowmobiles (I'm sure if the NSF could find diesel-powered snowmobiles they would buy them). This is the same fuel the LC-130 transport planes use in their engines so whenever one lands during the summer all its extra fuel is pumped into our fuel storage tanks.  Every plane during the summer does this, and that is how we squirrel away enough fuel to last the winter.  The exception is the trans-Antarctic traverse which uses tractors to drag huge fuel bladders from the coast to the Pole.  This isn't done every year, but it is more efficient than bringing all our fuel in by plane. The last traverse was in the summer of 2008. We do have a very small wind generator, but it is more of a test than a real power source, only giving us about 1 kW.
  3. How efficient are we in using fuel?  Very.  In fact we do not use any fuel to heat the station. I know that sounds strange, but we run our power plant generators only to produce electricity to power communications, science experiments, and lights - and we use the waste heat from those generators to provide heat (even for hot water and the laundry room clothes dryers).  Basically we heat the station the same way your car's heater works - by collecting waste heat from our engine's cooling system.  The insulation in the floors, walls and ceilings helps a lot because it is a foot thick.  All our outside doors are commercial freezer doors about eight inches thick, but instead of keeping the cold inside a freezer they keeps it outside where we prefer it.
  4. How warm is the station?  We keep it pretty cool, between 60F and 65F but it could be warmer if needed.  We are all used to it and think this is a comfortable temperature range.  A few weeks ago when it got to 70F we were complaining that it was too hot.  The thermometer on my desk says it is 65F right now and I am sitting here in a t-shirt.  We don't generally bundle up in the station, but if you were here you would see people wearing everything from fleece jackets to t-shirts sitting in the same room together. 


Fern Emma said...

Thanks for taking time to answer questions which you have been receiving.
It is incredible that in such extreme low temperatures you can heat your living quarters with "waste heat"!! We should all be so efficient.

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