Saturday, January 14, 2012

Emergency Fuel Tank Moving

During the next few weeks I will be posting some videos and still pictures of life at the South Pole during the 2010 winter.  The first of these is the repositioning of fuel tanks from the End of the World to nearer the station at the end of the season.  This video was taken on September 9th, 2010 and shows one of the fuel tanks being positioned near the station.  There was still about 45 days before warmer temperatures would bring the first flight since the previous February. Over the next week the fuel in this and other tanks that are brought to the station will be pumped into the station's main fuel storage tanks in the fuel arch.  The outside temperature is failry warm at this time (compared to the deep winter temperatures of only a few weeks earlier), and is probably around -65F.  You can tell it is warm(ish) because the people positioning the tanks have bare skin exposed.

The emergency fuel tanks are on sleds and are stored as far away from the station as is practical during the winter, at a location called End of the World.  This is done to divide the station's fuel into two groups so that a major disaster cannot destroy all of the station's fuel. The emergency fuel tanks had been dug out from winter snowdrifts the previous day. The full tanks shown here will be emptied and then refilled during the summer with fuel brought in during normal replenishing operations.  They will then be put back at the End of the World prior to the 2011 winter.

During the fuel transfer itself a great deal of attention is given to making sure not a drop of fuel spills onto the ice. All exterior valves, connectors and fittings are wrapped in absorbent pads in case there is even a small drip from the very cold connectors.  Transfer operations are monitored by people at the tanks, inside the pumping station, inside the station, and at the fuel arch to make sure there are no spills or accidents.

Below is a photo of the fuel arch where the station's fuel is stored. The fuel we pump from the emergency fuel tanks ends up in these tanks. The curved roof makes up the arch which is now below the snow surface. When originally constructed the arch was on the surface as were these fuel tanks. Now they are several feet under the ice and getting further buried each winter. These large fuel tanks replaced rubber fuel bladders that used to hold the station's fuel. Everything, including the tanks, was flown in on LC-130 aircraft over many summers.

Above is how the tanks are monitored for fuel level.  This area is always at 70 below, even during the summer. This is very cold work because personnel must come in contact with the cold metal of the tanks and their supporting structure. Each active tank is manually dipped and measured daily to make sure there is the expected amount of fuel in it.  High or low levels would mean that something unexpected has happened.   That is James Travis (JT3) dipping the tank.


Yanna said...

Interesting! It must be very hard though to work on that kind of place where the temperature is ooh soo low.

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