6 February, 2002
OUR FRESH WATER
Palmer Station is surrounded on three sides by the sea water of Arthur Harbor and Hero Inlet. The fourth side is the rocky area that leads up to the Marr Ice Piedmont-the glacier! The glacier is made up of fresh water, but we don't use it for drinking. So, where do we get our fresh water?
David Ensworth is the Power Plant Mechanic. He is in charge of our generator systems and our water desalination plant. The clue about the source of our water is in the word "desalination". "Sal" is the Latin word for salt. To "salinize" something means to make it salty. "Desalination" means to take salts out of something, usually seawater. That's right, we get our fresh water by "making it" from the salty seawater that surrounds us!
David relies on Gary Jirschele, the Maintenance Specialist, to see that the water pumps are working. When the water is pumped into the generator room, David supervises the desalination process. It is a "reverse osmosis" process. The seawater is pumped under high pressure (800 psi) through four long tubes. Inside these tubes there are three layers of very thin polyester material, called "membranes". The seawater, under pressure, is separated from its salts and flows through the membranes. That water is reduced in salt content. The rest of the water flows out another tube and back into the ocean.
We use the fresh water for cooking, for drinking, and for showers. We use seawater to flush the toilets. Here's the math: David makes 17,540 gallons of fresh water a week. If we use 13,030 gallons during that week, and if there are 37 people living at Palmer Station, how many gallons of water are consumed per person per day? How does that compare to the average fresh water consumption in the United States?
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