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14 December, 2001

Rhea Sanders has worked three consecutive seasons in Antarctica as an environmental educator. This year she came in on the Winfly (one of the first planes coming to Antarctica in August). Her main responsibility is to make sure all Raytheon Employees heading to the Dry Valleys comply with the environmental regulations. She also meets with scientists to go over regulations and to monitor the impact their projects may have on the environment. The Antarctic Conservation Act, a national law to protect Antarctica, regulates that science research must be done with the least amount of impact to the environment. Scientists must have approval for their projects before they can implement them in the field. Rhea, as a non-biased party, audits all field camps and monitors activities. She does environmental assessments, works on reports, and keeps the tracking of waste (In Antarctica, it is a requirement to sort all trash and waste).

When I asked Rhea what led her to get a degree in environmental science, she stated that great instructors made an impact on her career choice. In sixth grade, her teacher helicoptered all the students to a deserted island. A professor in college made all of his lectures outside in his "outdoor classroom". This helped her to decide that she wanted to do something out of the norm. Her love for canoeing gave her respect for the environment. She worked one summer as a naturalist on a whale watch vessel in the San Juan Islands. She was also a sea kayak guide. She worked for four years for the Noonsack Salmon Enhancement Association with a stream restoration group. She worked with kids and adults to repair salmon habitat. She took care of the nursery and planting, oversaw scientific monitoring of the stream, as well as worked with research projects of undergraduate and graduate students. The Noonsack project was successful because they prepped the site, replanted natural shrubs and vegetation, and rerouted the streams to meander properly. In doing so, they restored the stream for the fish to come back to the area. Rhea's love for the environment and her dedication for making it better are very apparent.

After Rhea told me about the waste barn, I went to check it out after the weather cleared. I had to walk through knee-deep snow to reach the barn. This barn smashes, sorts, and records the waste leaving Antarctica. The manager can easily tell if each group is doing their job. When trash leaves an area, such as our field camp at Explorers Cove, our project number and location is labeled with the waste.

Recycling is everywhere in Antarctica! We kept things sorted into different piles in our field camp. The recycle bins in each building at McMurdo Station do the same thing. The labels help to sort the trash. "Trash school" is a requirement for everyone coming into McMurdo. Everyone is trained on how to sort the trash correctly. Paper, metal, food, batteries, and clothing are just some of the things to be sorted in different containers.

Every building also has large outside bins for recycling. In Antarctica, recycling becomes a way of life. When the proper storage containers are available, it isn't hard to follow the regulations. It made us feel good to know that we were helping the environment.

I met Zoe Vida at dinner one night. In McMurdo, if you come into the dining room, it is very easy to sit down and eat with someone you don't know. This chance meeting with Zoe gave me the opportunity to see what she was doing in Antarctica. She invited me to come by her building for a tour. She works at the VMF, or Vehicle Maintenance Facility. Her father is Dave Ackley (See journal entry: December 13). This is her first year to come to Antarctica. She is from Portland, Oregon, and she came to Antarctica to work with the mechanics by keeping up with the logistics on the computer. She orders parts, and works with the inventory and distribution. Before I started my tour, she gave me a bag of popcorn. For some reason, I never expected to see popcorn in Antarctica.

Zoe introduced me to the supervisor, Bobby Werner (retired after 21 years in the Airforce), who gave me the tour of this amazing facility. The VMF houses the mechanics that work on heavy equipment. They maintain 550 pieces of equipment, which range from vans and trucks to the Challenger tractors and Deltas. They also help with runway support by renting out and maintaining equipment for the Pegasus Compaction Program. (The runways are built on the sea ice or the Ice Shelf because the expense, space, and weather conditions make it unsuitable to have the runways on land). I stayed over two hours and only left then because I knew that the blizzard was beginning to hit McMurdo. It had just started snowing when I talked with Rhea, but by the time I left the VMF building, the forklifts and vehicles were covered in snow. The wind was forceful, and the snow was blowing in my eyes. If it weren't for Dr. Korsun, I would have blown away, or needed the Challenger to take me back to Building 155.

Bobby and Zoe are standing next to the Challenger 95E. This is a powerful industrial tractor that is similar to the ones pulling sleds across West Antarctica for the ITASE (International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expeditions: See Jan French's web site at ../, as well as the back issue, December 2, 2001 archived at the Antarctic Sun website, www.polar.org/antsun). The ITASE team will be traveling 1200 miles from Byrd Field Camp to the old Siple Dome Station to collect ice cores and snow to study past history and climate. The sleds will be carrying laboratories, sleep bunks, and a kitchen, which is about 80,000 pounds of equipment and gear. What an impressive piece of equipment! I would later see it in action as it prepares the runway and roads to the airfield.

The Challenger, in action, is smoothing the snow at the Pegasus Runway.

This snow compactor (a 100-ton roller) pulled by a tractor is used to compact the snow surface at the Pegasus Runway. The compaction depends on the pressure and the temperature in order to make snow pavement (3.5 inch thick) to support the weight of the wheeled C-130 military planes. I spoke with Gerald Crist, the Pegasus Fleet Operations Foreman, while I was at VMF. His knowledge of snow and ice made me feel confident that the Pegasus Runway will be safe enough to support the plane's weight, especially when I later found out that I would be the first flight off the runway when I leave Antarctica this season. Gerald Crist said that the snow cover was needed on the runway to prevent the aircraft from being damaged if the compacted snow could not support the weight. The snow must be given the opportunity to sinter between rolling in order for the ice crystals to grow strong bonds. When I expressed concern about the approaching blizzard, he said that my flight would in all probability be delayed because the runways would need to be dug out and re-compacted. He said the biggest delay would be rebuilding and grooming the 18 miles of road that lead out to the runway. The Pegasus Runway is on a blue ice glacier on the Ice Shelf.

I ate dinner with Lisa last night, so I was excited to see what her job entails. She is riveting bolts into the treads of the massive Delta. These tracked vehicles move slowly, but they can traverse the sea ice when trucks and vans can't move.

Dennis, the lead technician from Rochester, MN, rebuilds engines, gear boxes, starter motors, and transmissions for the heavy equipment. Although the tool room has 78,000 line items and 400,000 pieces, there are times when parts get broken, or need to be ordered. This will hold up production, unless other parts can be welded and modified. All supplies are ordered a year in advance, so it is always hard to know what will be needed. This cold environment, along with the dryness, may cause tires, seals, or parts to crack or shatter. This is the third season for Dennis to work in Antarctica. I also met Dennis at the bowling alley (See journal entry: December 12).

Heavy equipment is plugged in and kept outside, but they are brought in and thawed out when repairs are needed. These huge lifts will hold the heavy equipment as repairs are being made. The National Science Foundation is environmentally conscious, so oil is pumped into vehicles, and not carried in order to prevent any oil spills. The VMF maintains all equipment, does project analysis, and assigns equipment out to whoever needs it. This cooperative effort with other departments, as well as preventative maintenance keep the heavy equipment ready and prepared to help McMurdo run smoothly. This is important for emergency situations, such as an unexpected blizzard shutting down the whole McMurdo complex. It was most impressive watching these heavy pieces of equipment restoring order after the blizzard.

The blizzard gave me the opportunity to see the "human spirit" at work, as people worked together to overcome and find solutions to problems. In a world where people often blame others, or give up when things don't work out, I found Antarctica to be a place where excuses were not an option and mistakes were not seen as failures. Instead, I constantly saw frustrations and Antarctica forcing people to deal with problems, and in the process pushing people to become stronger. In Antarctica, the weather and the lack of what is needed push people to think in other directions. Things never seem to work out in Antarctica when expected, but seeing the way these amazing people deal with the frustrations and problems is one of the greatest lessons that I will be taking home from this Antarctic experience. I see it in the field camps, with the scientists, in the galley, with the office workers, in the laboratories, and in the workforce here in Antarctica. What a great lesson on life! What a wonderful thing for students to see, and learn! We only fail when we choose not to try.

Welders help make modifications to rebuild tools and equipment for the shop or for scientists. The welders, as well as many heavy machinists, also helped to get the Pegasus Runway ready. This is Mike's first year in Antarctica. He worked as a machinist, but when he arrived in Antarctica, he was trained as a welder. The workers in Antarctica work where their talents prove to be strongest, and where they are most needed.

This piece of equipment allows the machinists to modify or make parts that have been ordered, but haven't made it to Antarctica. This is especially important when the parts are needed immediately. This machine can be programmed to go through metal to make modifications and tools.

This piece had to be extended so that it was long enough to fit where it was needed. Since they couldn't easily send the part back, they had to make modifications on the machine pictured above.

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