January 12, 1999
Letter 8: Power, Water, and Food

Dear Everyone, Power failure at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is considered an emergency situation because without it there is no heat, water resupply nor the ability to cook. When there is a power failure, everyone is expected to remain where they are and if an outside door is opened letting in frigid air further dropping inside temperatures, they are "cased". Casing is an informal fine requiring the provision of a case of beverages purchased from our tiny window service store (called the "Pole Mart") which is open only a couple hours a few times a week. This case then is taken to the weekly Saturday afternoon department meeting or the station meeting to be shared. Power conservation and power failure is taken very seriously at our station. Several nights ago I came to the dome early and was thrilled to be given a tour of the power plant by Mike who will be the winter-over station manager. The power plant is an "authorized personnel only" facility in an enormous archway connected to the dome. Once entering the front office area, Mike gave me a brief overview of what we would be seeing inside the plant and explained the various functions of the main control panel. After donning hearing protection devices, we entered. Inside the power plant are 3 Caterpillar diesel generators Model #3412 at 563 horse power with 2 smaller emergency backup generators outside the dome area located at the Jamesway (canvas Quonset tent) summer camp. Generally the 3 primary generators run one at a time in rotation with the generators at summer camp being used only as a last backup system. The generator's turbo chargers are not able to produce their rated capacity due to the lack of oxygen at our altitude. Each of the 3 main generators runs at about 1,800 RPM with an output of 400 KW of power. If there is a power loss, an emergency start-up of another generator occurs. Typically a generator requires 30 gallons of JP8 diesel fuel per hour at the cost of approximately $7.00 per gallon. Although 2 generators can be in operation at the same time, with both running there would not be enough JP8 to survive the long and extremely cold winter months before it is safe for the Hercs to fly in a station resupply. Around 300,000 gallons of fuel is needed for the winter season. Because the emergency generators at summer camp are smaller, the 2 could be run in parallel to provide the dome with power for a short period of time until the main generators are functional. Fuel is transferred to the primary operating generator every 2 hours from the fuel bladders in the fuel arch that is connected to the dome opposite the power plant archway. This season a series of 45 steel tanks for fuel storage are being installed to replace the rubber bladders used in the past. Nearly half a million gallons can be stored in this nearly completed new facility. All year every 2 hours trained volunteers check the power plant for functioning fuel transfer, generator mechanical function, generator oil levels, and the even distribution of power over the station's 3 phases.

New steel fuel tanks in the fuel arch.
Photo by Les Kolb.
Station water supply is closely linked to the power plant. Prior to 1992 water was created by using snow melters. With increasing station population and interest in the conservation of power, the station began implementing the Rod well method for water supply. The Rod well was pioneered in Greenland by Rodriquez for whom this method is named. The generator exhaust stack in the power plant heats a glycol heat exchanger and is pumped through a loop in the power plant itself. It then heats water in a loop within the power plant through another heat exchanger and circulates it to the Rod well where it melts ice for water. Cold water of 36 F is drawn from the Rod well and heated to around 75 F at the rate of 17 gallons per minute and is pumped back down into the well in this loop phase system to melt the ice and create a bulb of water. A submersible pump then pumps it back up to the power plant where it is heated with generator exhaust and returned to the well to melt more ice for water in a continuous loop cycle. The tremendous advantage of the Rod well is that it saves a great deal of energy translated to money over the snow melt system. The heat value of fuel is roughly 1/3 energy which is used for station electricity, 1/3 heat (engine jacket temperature like radiator heat used to warm a car) which is used to heat our buildings, and 1/3 exhaust heat which is used for the Rod well to melt the ice for our station water supply. This method is 86% efficient. The significant cost advantage of the Rod well water supply system is that it requires no fuel, no major equipment and no operators. Because the snow melt method of water production using fuel fired boilers relies on fuel consumption, personnel and heavy equipment, it is very expensive. The Rod well method has been used exclusively beginning in 1998. The Rod well is around 60 feet wide and 415 feet deep and contains approximately million gallons of water. The bulb descends as the ice well melts down but the diameter remains quite uniform. The limit on the well is how deep it is possible to pump up the water. The well's submersible pump is approximately 300 feet below the surface. Once the well becomes too deep to pump, a new well needs to be started. The life of a Rod well is about 6-10 years. Depending upon need, the service of a Rod well is approximately twice a year. This roughly entails pulling up the pump and using a water jet to keep the ice from closing the hole that was bored into the snow pack for the well. This process is called "reaming the well". Station water use is approximately 2,000 gallons per day at 13-17 gallons per person per day in the austral summer season and 25-30 gallons per person per day in the winter season. This summer-winter use factor is primarily due to the ratio of personnel to the galley for water use and includes all water use (drinking, bathroom, and galley) for the station. Station water is tested periodically and is chlorinated for the control of bacteria in the insulated and heat trace warmed piping system. Power and water are expensive at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and conservation is continually stressed. Lights are off when not in use and the hallways are rarely lighted in the berthing areas. Bathroom lights are habitually turned off when leaving. Laundry is limited to one load per person per week. Full loads only are highly encouraged. This works out well for Les and I because we can make one load of lights and the other of darks rather than launder everything together. Although we use the washer we do not use the dryer. This has a two-fold benefit. It not only saves energy but also adds greatly needed humidity into the air of our room while we sleep at night. Because of this need for the comfort of humidity, we usually do our laundry before we go to bed and drape it over any available space in our room. It's not very attractive but it saves energy, we sleep comfortably, and it is dry and ready to put away when we wake up. Showers are limited to two 2-minute "navy" showers (wet down, water off, soap up, rinse) per week. Shower days are special even if the navy method is cold when the water is turned off! Sink water is conserved by not letting water run while brushing teeth or washing up. It is recommended that toilets not be flushed after every use. In the Elevated Dorm gray water (recycled and chlorinated water from the washing machine, sinks and showers) is used for flushing. Due to extremely low humidity and high altitude, personal dehydration is a constant concern. Our station meteorologists tell me that our humidity is usually between 5 and 10% and can be less than 5%. Water conservation is practiced except in the case of personal water consumption. Here at the South Pole Station it is recommended that we drink 4 quarts of water each day whereas at McMurdo (sea level) 2 quarts daily are suggested. One of the first symptoms I experience when not drinking enough water is a headache. Especially during the first several weeks after our arrival, I frequently woke up during the night with a dry nose and mouth in spite of more than a gallon of water the 2 humidifiers we brought with us put into the air of our small room. I still keep my water bottle propped in the corner of my bed when I sleep so I can easily take sips of water during the night. Due to the extremely dry air, bloody noses are not uncommon. Before deploying to the ice, everyone was issued a plastic quart-sized water bottle. Since these water bottles are all alike we have become creative with permanent markers, colored tape and labels to aid in their identification. Like our fuel supply, our food is also aircraft cargo to the ice. Obviously we do not need freezers for food storage, but we do need refrigerators to prevent fresh or defrosted food from either freezing or spoiling. When we say we're going to the freezer to pull a case of coffee or tea, that means we're going outside a building in the dome to the area inside the dome. Cases and bags of food are stored in all available spaces around the inside wall of the dome and behind and around the sides of some of the buildings. Foods are grouped according to type and in some instances are alphabetized. For example, the cases of canned and bagged fruits and vegetables are grouped in one area and the meats and seafood in another area of the dome.

Frozen food stored around the buildings inside the dome ("the deep freeze").
Photo by Les Kolb.

There is a room in the dome near the galley called the "Freshie Shack" that is heated to 40 F for the storage of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products should we be so fortunate to be designated freshie cargo. Our last supply of significant size was just prior to our Thanksgiving dinner. Since then we had a small order of several cases that exhausted itself within a few days. We had no freshie cargo for Christmas and none since that I can determine. Yesterday one of the cooks told me that there would be no more freshie delivery this season. Our fruit supply is down to canned apricots, applesauce, plums, fruit cocktail, and some grapefruit. The canned grapefruit will not last much longer. There are frozen blueberries and other assorted berries that the cooks use in baking or add to the yogurt they make and serve at breakfast. The frozen melon balls have not been too popular so I believe the cooks are reluctant to serve them.

Freshies inside the Freshie Shack.
Photo by Les Kolb.

The entrance to the Freshie Shack (inside the dome).
Photo by Les Kolb.

Meals are generally planned a week ahead of time and the cooks keep shopping lists with the help of the cook's assistant of the cases of foods that need to be pulled from the "freezer". These frozen foods must be pulled well ahead of time to allow for defrosting. They are frozen extremely hard. It takes ages for ice cream to thaw enough to scoop with ease! When the cook's assistant goes to the freezer to pull cases of food, we call it "going shopping". Along with the shopping notebook and generally pulling a banana sled, the cook's assistant goes from area to area inside the dome selecting the cases of food to be carried into the galley pantry to thaw for use in the following day or days.

Mark, our breakfast and lunch first cook, in the galley.
Photo by Les Kolb.
Our excellent night cook, Laura, and the baker, Marcie, tell me that the galley uses 100 lbs. of flour per day. Marcie bakes all of our bread including hamburger buns. Both Marcie and Laura bake fresh bagels, croissants, donuts, scones, English muffins, cinnamon rolls and quick breads on various days for our breakfast. Along with the 100 lbs. of flour per day, the galley uses 30 lbs. of butter and 20 lbs. of margarine in food preparation not to mention the quarts of vegetable and olive oil. Every two days the galley goes through 30 lbs. of sugar. Sally, the galley supervisor, tells me that approximately 80 lbs. of meat is served at dinner, 40 lbs. at lunch, and 20 lbs. at midrats daily. If we were so fortunate to have fresh potatoes, about 60 lbs. would be served at dinner. About 30 lbs. of rice is used when served at dinner. Future letter topics will be on science research projects at the Amundsen- Scott South Pole Station, distinguished visitors, and the people working here for the austral summer season. If you are a science or math teacher and could use semi-rare data of ozone profiles in table format for mini-projects to compare old data and techniques and to identify/compare differing methods of collection or to compare seasonal and annual data for your classes, then send an e-mail to Elke Bergholz at: berghoel@spole.gov. Elke is a teacher who is working with projects in ozone and climate monitoring here at the South Pole. She will send you data collected over 3-4 times, some seasonal data and 1-2 annual data reports. Elke said if you are interested in such data for classroom use, she will add your name to a group mailing list. For the latest on the adventures of the CBS TV crew still in Antarctica and their visit to our South Pole Station, check out their web site at: http://www.cbs.com/navbar/news.html. Click on the Antarctica icon and enjoy the photos and vignettes. Following is the December 1998 Climate Summary report prepared by Dar and John, two of our station meteorologists. Best regards, Sandi

Rod well loop phase system in the power plant.
Photo by Les Kolb.

Rod well system in the power plant.
Photo by Les Kolb.

Caterpillar diesel generators in the power plant.
Photo by Les Kolb.

The water sled of Rod well water for the resupply of the Elevated Dorm and Summer Camp.
Photo by Les Kolb.

Sandi by an old snow melter for water supply at a summer camp head module.
Photo by Les Kolb.


Avg temp................ -29.0(C)/-20.2(F)
Departure from normal... -1.2(C)/-2.2(F)
Max temp................ -22.2(C)/-8.0(F) on day
Min temp................ -34.8(C)/-30.6(F) on day 25 

Sky cover:
Avg cloud cover (8ths).... 05
Days clear................ 11
Days partly cloudy........ 10
Days cloudy............... 10

Avg wind speed............ 7.1 mph or 6.2 kts.
Prevailing wind direction..Grid Northeast or 030 degrees.
Max wind.................. 25 mph or 22 kts on day 02
Max wind direction........ Grid Northeast.
Avg vectored wind......... 030 degrees at 4.9 knots. 

Station pressure:
Avg pressure........... 684.4 mbs or 20.210 In. Hg.
Departure from normal.. - 4.1 mbs or -0.121 In. Hg.
Highest pressure....... 693.7 mbs or 20.485 In. Hg. on day 01
Lowest pressure........ 671.0 mbs or 19.815 In. Hg. on day 09 

Sunset on 21 March, Sunrise on 23 September
Average hours/day........ 20.2
Percent of possible...... 84%

Snowfall..... trace; avg net change at snow stakes +0.070 inches. 

Visibility... 0 days with a visibility of 1/4 mile or less. 

Balloon flight data:
Number of Soundings for the month... 61
Avg height of Soundings.... 34.4 mbs or 26863 meters above msl.
Highest Sounding........... 5.3 mbs or 36369 meters above msl. 
on the day 12/00z Sounding.

1 Sounding was missed.
47 Soundings were terminated above 50 mbs. 
8 Soundings were terminated between 50 and 100 mbs.
6 Soundings were terminated below 100 mbs. 

Day 1 - The maximum temperature of --23.8(C)/-10.8(F) broke the
previous record of -23.9(C)/-11.0(F) set in 1965.
Day 25 - The minimum temperature of -34.8(C)/-30.6(F) broke the 
previous record of -33.1(C)/-27.6(F) set in 1993.
Day 29 - The minimum temperature of -31.7(C)/-25.1(F) broke the 
previous record of -31.1(C)/-24.0(F) set in 1962.
Day 30 - The minimum temperature of -31.9(C)/-25.4(F) broke the 
previous record of -31.7(C)/-25.1(F) set in 1972.
Day 31 - The minimum temperature of -32.0(C)/-25.6(F) broke the 
previous record of -31.1(C)/-24.0(F) set in 1972. 

Prepared by: Dar Gibson/John Gallagher

e-mail: KOLBSA@spole.gov
amateur radio: NE7V

Sandra Kolb,ASA
South Pole Station
PSC 468 Box 400
APO AP 96598-5400

Back to Letters.