Sunday, October 29, 2000

Playhouse yields to communications building

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Construction crews this week tore down the McMurdo Station playhouse, also known as
Building 64, with a little help from the wind in Thursday’s storm.

Built in 1958, it was one of the original station buildings. It was the same age as the gym, the bowling alley/ceramics room and cargo building 73. The Mechanical Equipment Center, building 58, was also built that year.

The metal Quonset hut known as the Playhouse was used for many things during its life.

It was used as a steel shop during the construction of the Crary Lab, a warehouse for the station store, winter storage for heavy equipment, and a home to the general field assistants in the 1980s, McMurdo operations manager Bill Haals said.

He also remembers when the building was shortened by about 15 feet, resulting in an informal name change for Building 64.

“It was called ‘Building 63 and fifteen-sixteenths,’” Haals said.

The playhouse was also used as a temporary heavy shop in 1982-83 after fire destroyed the regular heavy shop.

“It’s been used for a lot of different things,” said McMurdo construction coordinator Woody Haywood.

Now, however, the area will be used to build a communications center, consolidating Internet, telephone and satellite operations. Those facilities are now spread throughout town.

“We’re creating a new building that will be the hub of communications at McMurdo,” Haywood said.

Construction on the new building will begin during the winter. Until then, the workers will clear the site and prepare it for new construction.

The workers, Haywood said, haven’t found any material of historical significance, though he said they might when they tear up the floor later in the season. He said the crew would help preserve anything they find.

“When we do find some of that old stuff we just throw it in the bars so people can look at it,” Haywood said.

The workers are on the South Pole construction crew, working while they’re in town, before heading to the Pole. When they go, Haywood said, McMurdo construction workers will complete the project.

Waste not wanted

Published in the Antarctic Sun

McMurdo Station is the largest human settlement on the continent of Antarctica. More than
1,000 people will call it home this summer.

It’s an around-the-clock operation that generates sewage 24 hours a day. That waste is piped into the ocean less than 200 feet from the shoreline.

Two researchers are studying the impact the sewage outflow has on the McMurdo Sound ecosystem and on the quality of drinking water at the station.

John Lisle and Jim Smith are examining samples of ocean-floor sediment, the seawater, Weddell seal feces and McMurdo’s drinking water for evidence of human bacteria and viruses.

The first two are primary sources for a baseline indicator of how much pollution the sewage is introducing into the slow-moving ocean off McMurdo Station.

Seal feces help show the degree to which human bacteria have become part of the ecosystem, possibly causing disease in the seal population.

The drinking water studies are the first to test for viruses in McMurdo’s fresh water supply. The station’s water is regularly tested for bacteria and other contaminants, including lead.

The three major indicators the pair are looking at are fecal coliform bacteria, a common indicator of water quality used in judging safety of beaches and shellfish, clostridium perfringens, a bacterium associated with human sewage, and human enterovirus, which is found in human

Seal exposure
Lisle and Smith will compare the genetic material in bacteria in sewage and in similar bacteria in seal feces to see if the human bacteria are exchanging genetic information with bacteria in seals.

“Nobody knows if seals normally have clostridia,” Lisle said. He said they are also trying to find some seals that would not have been exposed to human waste, to give them a baseline level of clostridium bacteria in seal feces.

They hope to learn whether human diseases are being transmitted to the seals.

Two teams of researchers studying Weddell seals in McMurdo Sound are helping the pair by collecting samples of seal feces.

Outfall sampling
Science support diver Rob Robbins is collecting samples of water and the ocean floor around the sewage outfall.

Previous work has shown clostridia in sediment layers containing fecal coliform, and defined the physical extent of the pollution from the sewage outfall.

One of the problems was the concentration of waste in a location where the water doesn’t do much to dilute it.

“There aren’t very high current speeds here , ’’Smith said.

The end of the pipe, Robbins said, is 180 feet offshore in an area where the bottom is 60 feet deep. The pipe is raised four feet off the sea floor.

Since the new Crary aquarium was built five years ago, it flushes 250 gallons of cold seawater through the system each minute, Robbins said.

It used to be that the pile would grow over the course of a season to the height of the pipe. Now, Robbins said, with the increased flow from the aquarium in Crary, the waste has spread more thinly over a large area.

“Now it’s this huge field of effluent. It’s mostly poop out there,” Robbins said.

“Most of the pieces are about as big as your fingernail.”

Robbins talked about the spiny sea urchins that like to try to camouflage themselves with debris from the ocean floor.

Normally, they use other animals or bits of coral or other normal sea-floor debris. Near the outfall, though, Robbins said, “You see them with pretty interesting things.”

“I like diving at the outfall,” Robbins said. “You see things you’d never see anywhere else.”

Drinking water quality
The sewage plume extends beyond the intake for McMurdo’s water supply, but this has not been a problem in the past.

“The drinking water quality’s always been fine,” Smith said. But they are testing the water in a new way.

“This is the first time that viruses have been looked at,” Lisle said.

Both are clear, though, about the outfall’s role in transmitting contagious disease on the station.

“You can’t get the Crud from the sewer,” Smith said.

The samples of drinking water will be sent to the University of Arizona for analysis of viral presence; the results will not be available until the scientists return home.

Sewage treatment
“With the Antarctic Treaty, all the treaty signers are held to various standards for pollution and waste,” Smith said.

Some Antarctic bases do treat their waste already, including an Australian base, Smith said. New Zealand is planning to build a sewage treatment plant at Scott Base. McMurdo’s current macerator system meets the treaty requirements.

“Doing sewage treatment down here is a real challenge,” Smith said. Other places, he said, use big lagoons or oxidation ponds.

“ You can’t have that here. It’d just freeze solid,” he said.

Blasting began last week for McMurdo’s new sewage treatment plant, which will be running in 2003, said NSF facilities manager Frank Brier. The sludge from the plant, Brier said, will be sent back to the U.S. for disposal. The water leaving the plant will be treated to kill viruses and bacteria to prevent further pollution of the ocean.

“What is discharged (from the plant) is not drinkable but it’s clean,” Brier said.

Sunday, October 22, 2000

Science roundup

Published in the Antarctic Sun

As summer returns to Antarctica, scientists and science support staff around the continent gear up for the prime research season. On the U.S. research vessels Laurence M. Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer and at McMurdo, South Pole and Palmer stations, over 600 researchers will work on over 130 separate science projects. Here are some of the highlights of the upcoming science season:

The International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition will continue its journeys in East Antarctica, looking at shallow ice cores, showing climatic data from the past 200 years or so. (Corrected: West Antarctica.) Most global climatic data shows general trends of warming and cooling through Earth’s history, according to Bernie Lettau, the NSF science representative at
McMurdo Station. But climate also includes smaller areas. Global fluctuation is punctuated by more localized changes.
“There still have to be regional differences,” Lettau said. ITASE will continue to look at the actual data for the recent history of Antarctica.

The Support Office for Aerogeophysical Research will fly over the area of Lake Vostok and Russia’s Vostok Station to study the area more closely. The information will be used in preparations for further study of Lake Vostok.
“It’s so they can make some educated decisions about what to do,” said Crary Lab supervisor Robbie Score.

The Crud
John Lyle is studying the McMurdo Crud, the illness that can strike McMurdo residents each season. The viruses survive in the air as well as in the sewage outfall into McMurdo Sound. They are not native to the area, and so they affect the water quality and the wildlife around the station.
“What they’re trying to do is see how our viruses influence the indigenous populations,” Score said.

Sea ice
John Dempsey of Clarkson University is studying the structure of sea ice, including how it forms and how it breaks up. The group is based near the edge of the fast ice of McMurdo Sound.
“They’re cutting a floe out and they’re going to start a crack and put weights on either side,” Score said.

Decoding ice cores
A team at South Pole Station is looking at how atmospheric particles end up in icecore sediments. Interpreting ice cores, Lettau said, requires an understanding of how the layers form. The team, led by Doug Davis of the Georgia Institute of Technology, is specifically targeting sulfur chemistry because of the significance of sulfur deposits in ice.
“Sulfates in ice are a primary proxy for reconstructing the climatic history from the core,” Lettau said.

The Southern Ocean Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics study group will spend their first summer looking at krill as part of a summer-winter-summer set of cruises to look at the basic element of the Antarctic food chain.
“It is intended to look at the health of these various niches in the ocean ecosystem,” Lettau said. “What do krill eat when they’re under the ice in winter? Are they happy there?”

Scott Base
Antarctica New Zealand are supporting several projects this summer season, including a study of methods of preserving the historic huts on Hut Point, Cape Evans and Cape Royds. Also this season, Scott Base will see a series of interviews designed to compare people’s expectations
about Antarctica and their actual perceptions upon arrival, several ecological and environmental studies and a study of Adélie penguin populations at capes Crozier, Royds and Bird, which is one of several collaborative efforts between U.S. and New Zealand scientists. The equipment
used in the Cape Roberts drilling project, which was stored on Cape Roberts over the winter, will be returned to Scott Base this season.

Galley's gone... It’s now called the “dining facility.” More than the name has changed.

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Dining workers are experimenting on McMurdo Station residents. With the opening of the new dining facility in Building 155, food service staff have been trying out new configurations of equipment and different traffic flows.

The new space opened in mid-August, just before Winfly, and eaters and servers have both shared confusion at its use, said food services manager Lester Bracey.

“Initially we didn’t know what everything was supposed to do,” he said.

Some of the kiosks on which food is served can be rearranged, which allows for flexibility. The new structure, though, is designed to be less of a cafeteria line and more like a food court.

“It’s supposed to scatter people around,” Bracey said. “You’re just supposed to move in and out.”

With fewer bays, the kitchen staff can spend more time preparing food.

“They’re actually able to focus on a better-quality product for fewer slots,” Bracey said.

Not all of the food-serving areas are open yet. With new staff and a new facility, they’re
moving slowly to be sure things run smoothly, said Bracey. “Over Winfly we moved
things around a lot.”

But some things are not working out so well, such as the dish-return area.

“We’ve got a bit of a traffic jam,” he said.

However, people are responding to that by staggering their arrival times for meals and
leaving earlier to get to work on time.

There was no logjam when it came to construction.

Things went very well, said winter construction and maintenance manager Mike Kelly.

The first task was to open up the space. “The first month was almost completely
tearing things out,” Kelly said.

He said new features of the dining area include ventilation equipment that exchanges
the entire volume of the room 42 times each hour, skylights with motorized shades that can allow light in or seal it out, and radiant, under-floor heating, which uses the same glycol-
based waste-heat recovery system as the rest of the building.

The construction crew numbered anywhere between 15 and 25 people, Kelly said.

But even with all the demands of the job, Kelly said they only had to work one Sunday of overtime to finish the work on schedule.

Several people, Kelly said, were truly crucial to the success of the construction, which is the first major winter project completed on time in several years. Kelly credited electrician Dale Role, plumber Paul Rogers, metal-worker Fred Cunningham, and Ken Robinson and his crew of sheetrockers.

“We were lucky to get people who can do this quality of work,” he said.

Kelly also gave credit to Vince Scopa, who coordinated the project. Scopa, Kelly said, became known as a hard-driving boss, but one the crew wanted to work with.

“They jokingly called this (building) ‘Cellblock 155.’ But they all wanted to work in Cellblock 155,” Kelly said.

With 358 seats, the new facility holds 60 more seats than the old galley.

Some things have been left to be finished this summer season. For example, there will be clear glass blocks placed in the railings to better separate the sections of the dining space.