7 October, 1997

Journal Entry: 7 October, 1997

Thomas Geelan

This is my second full day at McMurdo Station. I'm using the time to get organized and set up my work area and computer. This will truly be my lifeline to the outside world and my family.

One of the first things to strike a visitor to McMurdo (other than the weather) is how friendly and helpful all the people are. McMurdo is a town which exists for only one reason - science. Ironically, scientists make up a very small percentage of the people here. It takes a tremendous support staff to support a relatively small number of scientists so that they may make the most of their short time here. Although McMurdo has a year round population most research is conducted during the summer season. This runs from about early October until February . Due to this short period of time and the great expense associated with being here, every effort is made to allow scientists to do science and not worry about most everyday chores. There are eager support staff for just about everything one could need.

This morning I attended a mandatory seminar on waste management. Another thing which makes McMurdo very different from a normal city is how it handles its waste. Antarctica is the coldest, driest, harshest, and cleanest place on earth. It is a very fragile ecosystem and just a few people can have a drastic and long term impact. Basically all waste (with the exception of some human waste) must leave Antarctica for disposal in the U.S. This means that a very rigorous waste management program must be enforced.

There are 5 main waste categories at McMurdo:

1. Recyclables - These are things most US people recycle. Each must be sorted separately. They include metal, paper, glass, plastic, and more. They are shipped to the state of Washington and recycled.

2. Disposables - This includes construction debris, product containers, grey water, and urine. After shipment to Washington it is treated in local wastewater treatment plants or disposed of in sanitary landfills.

3. Waste-To-Energy - Food waste, burnables, wood, and feces. In Washington they will be used as an energy source for generating electricity.

4. Hazardous - This is also shipped to Washington for proper treatment and disposal.

5. Waste Minimization - This is a conscientious effort to reduce the amount of waste by eliminating unnecessary packaging and overall volume before it comes to Antarctica.

In addition to the above there is a 24 hour reuse center which has been named "Skua Central." Here anyone can find things that other people no longer wanted or could not bring home with them when they left. One might find televisions, clothing, appliances, books, office supplies, or just about anything. Its a bit strange to be living in a town where you can get so many things without money. In fact, money isn't used for much at all in everyday life at McMurdo.

Things to ponder:

1. Suppose you were in charge of planning a city which had to effectively support 100 scientists for 6 months in a place as remote and harsh as Antarctica. Brainstorm and see how many different groups of people you can list that would be essential. What special problems might you encounter?

2. How could waste management be improved in your community? What could you, your class, or your school do to help?

3. If money wasn't used in your town what do you think it would be like? How would people get the things they need? What would drive people to produce food, clothes, and the things everyone needs or wants?

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